Check ponds and streams for beaver, otter or muskrat issues
(Reprinted from above link)
By the time you read this article, the Ohio Fur Trapping season is winding down for some of Ohio’s fur bearing animals.
The exceptions are beavers, otters, muskrats and minks for which the season ends on Feb. 28, 2019. So you still have time to get rid of the otters that are stealing your fish, the beavers that are cutting your trees and plugging your spillways, or the muskrats digging holes in your dams.
For a lot of you walking your property looking for these critters or damage, it is not top priority. But I do know one thing, in the 21 years I have done this job it never fails during that first week of March right after trapping season ends, I always get a phone call from someone that has a beaver, otter, or muskrat problem in their creek or pond.
So if you’re a property owner that has a pond or stream on your land or have had problems in the past, get out there and do a little looking around and contact your local trapper. The bonus of taking care of the problem now is that season is in and local nuisance trappers will not charge any fees for removal.
Once season is out, that nuisance trapper will normally charge you a fee.
If you don’t know any local trappers, you can contact your local wildlife officer or county Soil and Water Conservation District for a list of trappers. Or, you can get on the web and search for Ohio Commercial Nuisance Wild Animal Control Operators list.
This is a list of people that have been certified through the Ohio Division of Wildlife to become certified to remove nuisance wild animals in the state of Ohio. The Ohio State Trappers Association has a list of individuals by county that also remove beaver, otter, and muskrats.
A few things to look for when looking for problems with beavers are trees larger than one inch in diameter that are cut off at angles and dams made out of mud and sticks across the stream causing water to be backed up in the creek.
In your pond, you will have mud and sticks pushed up around the spillway pipe. I have seen cases where the spillway pipe is so plugged that water is over top the pipe and then the beavers build a dam in the emergency spillway. There will be a lodge (beaver’s house) along the side of stream or along the ponds edge made up of a big pile of sticks and mud.
Beavers will also live in bank dens. These are holes dug into the banks of ponds and streams by beavers.
Usually this time of year beavers will have a bunch of fresh cut trees and branches piled out in the water in front of their lodge or bank den. This material was cut this past fall or early winter and will be used for food as the winter worsens and the pond or stream becomes froze over.
Muskrats do similar things like the beaver but on a smaller scale. Usually, trees less than three-quarters of an inch are cut at the same angel by muskrats.
A muskrat’s primary food source is cattail roots. If you have cattails you will eventually have muskrats.
Muskrats do not usually build dams. They prefer an area that already has an existing pool of water like beaver ponds, streams and farm ponds. Muskrats are known to plug spillway pipes in ponds with cattails. Sometimes the tops of the cattails will float over to the spillway pipe and plug it.
Muskrats build their lodges from mainly cattails and a little mud. Muskrats will also have bank dens just like the beaver but on a smaller scale.
If you walk around your pond you will notice what trappers refer to as runs. This is where the water is discolored (muddy looking) where the muskrats are going in and out of their bank dens. Beavers will have the same but on a much larger scale.
Some of you might have docks or piers in the water. Muskrats and beavers will crawl up under these and use them for feeding or loafing areas. I have seen on the river front where beavers chew holes in the floatation devices used to hold the docks up out of the water.
I have also seen where beavers have chewed 1 inch plastic gas lines in half, and I have talked to people that have had their aeration system hoses chewed on by beavers and muskrats.
Remember that you are dealing with two species that are members of the rodent family. And they love to chew on something hard to keep their teeth from continuously growing.
Otter damage is nothing similar to muskrat and beaver damage. About the only thing otters have in common with muskrats and beavers is they all like to make dens by digging in stream banks and pond dams.
I have only seen one case of where otters dug bank dens into a dike of a wetland. Otters usually occupy old abandoned beaver lodges and bank dens.
Otters are professionals in killing fish, crayfish, frogs, muskrats and even ducks. A pair of otters can clean out a farm pond in no time.
Some things to look for when looking for otter damage around your pond are, dead fish remains, latrines and wallows. Don’t always suspect otters as soon as you see dead fish floating. There are a number of other reasons fish could be floating dead on top of your pond. Begin to look for latrines.
Otters are notorious for using the bathroom in the same spots. These areas will have an assortment of crayfish parts and fish scales. There will be dead spots in the grass from urination and defecating at these locations. In the spring and summer these areas will be a lush dark green because of the high nutrient levels that were deposited here by otters in the winter.
These areas will usually be located from a good vantage point for the otter overlooking a stream or pond.
The last thing to look for is wallows. Otters will find a sandy place or an area next to the water with lots of leaves and roll in these areas and use the sand and ball up the leaves to dry themselves off. You may also notice a little scat and some vomit that is fishy smelling in these areas.
Hopefully these are some helpful hints of what to look for when you walk around your pond or next to that stream that runs through your property this winter.
If you are feeling guilty about all the stuff you ate for the holidays and you put on some extra pounds, this can be a reason to get out there this January and February and get rid of some of those pounds.
Who knows! You might even find some whitetail deer sheds from that deer you were chasing this past hunting season and never got.
Schott is currently the Noble County Soil and Water administrator and forestry and wildlife specialist. He has been employed with Soil and Water Conservation Districts since 1998. He can be reached at the office, 740-732-4318, for questions or to schedule an appointment.