Beaver (Castor Canadensis)
By Mary Henzi
If you have spent any time boating or fishing on our beautiful lakes, you may have noticed a not too shy beaver or two swimming by, especially at dusk. You may even have heard a big splash (no, it’s not the mother of all Bass making a grand attempt to snag the mother of all mosquitoes). It’s probably the warning splash the beaver makes with its large flat scaly tail to warn other beavers that you (or danger) are coming.
Many people view beavers as a nuisance to our lakes and in some small ways they are. In the past, it has been the custom at LITC to have beavers removed from the lake. But, has anyone noticed that within a few months of removing a beaver or beavers, another one arrives to replace it? That is the way of Mother Nature and of these fascinating beasts. We can continue to remove them only to have them replaced or learn to live with what God put here before we even dreamed of having a country home. Castor Canadensis suffers from some misinformed prejudices in our community as well as in the world at large.
This affable and harmless animal is really worth keeping around. How appropriate that the Latin name for beaver includes the word Canadensis, the very name of the town which serves as the Lake in the Clouds post office. If you believe in omens, this is one.
By the early 1900’s beavers had been hunted and trapped into extinction (for their thick, warm fur) in this area as well as almost everywhere in the lower 48 states. It wasn’t on a whim that most states decided to reintroduce them to their ecosystems. Environmentalists discovered that we were losing precious wetlands and many species along with them. Nearly one half of the endangered species in North America require wetlands to survive. The beaver creates wetlands where they did not formerly exist, therefore contributing to habitat expansion for fish, frogs, birds, and many other animals and plants. Native Americans referred to the beaver as the “sacred center” for these very same reasons. Native Americans were no fools. They learned that where there were beavers, there was also an abundance of other wildlife and food.
Studies have been performed on waters collected from the upstream and downstream sides of a beaver dam and the conclusions have been stunning. Water that has passed through a beaver dam has been filtered (even removing pesticides) and is much cleaner as a result. How then can we justifiably fight a battle against these noble creatures?
With a little knowledge, we can live in harmony with them. Let us examine their life cycle. Since we know we had one beaver in the lake last fall, we probably had two – a mating pair (they mate for life). They have set up household in a lodge in the inlet end of Lake in the Clouds. Over the winter, they will have produced 1 to 4 kits, which will be born between April and June. These babies are able to take to the water within 24 hrs. of birth and when they are tired of swimming will hitch a ride on mommy’s back. I for one would love to witness that. The kits remain with the family to help raise next year’s babies and when they are 2 years of age, they are pushed out of the lodge and must set out to find mates and set up housekeeping in their own territories. The quest for new homes is highly treacherous. Bears, coyotes, dogs and automobiles make the overland journey to new “digs” a dangerous one not to mention the frustration of finding a perfect site only to discover a big old mean male of your own species who has already laid claim to that territory. The actual number one killer of beavers is the trapper and unwitting “removal” of beavers from a chosen territory.
So, if Lake in the Clouds is big enough to support a beaver family, why not keep them here instead of removing them, only to have new ones arrive to replace them anyway? We will always have beavers. Why not have and keep a resident family?
Okay, okay, what about our trees? Well, we can protect them. We lost a couple of trees in our yard to the beaver last fall, but we intentionally removed the chicken wire protection from around the base of their trunks as they had suffered heavy winter damage and were obstructing the view. The beavers gladly removed them for us. We maintain chicken wire protection on the lower trunks of the trees we want to keep. If beavers cannot get enough trees to support themselves, they will move out or automatically have smaller litters so there are fewer mouths to feed. Remember that beavers are most comfortable remaining within 300 ft. of water so you need to protect any trees you value within that distance of the lake and that they prefer young maples, birches and willows, beeches and aspen although, they will take older trees and other species depending on their needs. Some studies show that Beaver pruning has helped to create healthier and stronger trees. Also, the elm has made a comeback because beavers don’t eat elm and therefore create a more favorable growing environment by taking out the other trees around them. Yes, beavers make dams but only when the water is not deep enough for lodge building. This is necessary when they move into an area with a slow moving stream but not when a lake is already deep enough to accommodate their home.
Let’s talk about what the beavers do to help us. They eat the water lilies. They love the tender spring stalks and the blossoms. They are doing us a huge favor by removing those from our precious lake. I don’t know about you, but I noticed that the water lily density was quite high last summer, but in the fall, after the arrival of our beaver, I noticed that all the lily blossoms had been nipped off. They also eat algae and other aquatic plants. They create channels in the bottom of the lake which help make it possible for them to transport limbs through the water. This of course helps keep our lake at its current depth if not making it deeper.
Yes, with an environmentally sound approach and planning, man and beast can coexist. Castor Canadensis (our town namesake) is a valuable link in the Pocono mountain food chain and contributor to environmental health and we need to respect, cherish and nurture that.
For further information, go to these web sites:
Also: Fergus, Charles. Wildlife of Pennsylvania and the Northeast. Illustrated by Amelia Hansen. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, PA, 2000.