The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group. It is a place for the Dkos community members to note any observations they have made of the world around them. Insects, weather, meteorites, climate, birds and flowers are worthy additions to the bucket. Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located in the comments. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unfolding around us.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. . . . Charles Dickens, 1859People are sure funny about nature. To illustrate (if an illustration is needed), this is a short story about beavers being beavers and how two communities reacted to the buck toothed rodents’ gnawing into Mother Nature’s tastiest. The two cities are Bellingham and Seattle, WA.
The Wildlife Tree as it appeared on December 19, 2013, at least a week into the chewing
Please continue beyond the curley beaver chips for the rest of the story.
Bellingham, WA, December, 2013 - January 2014:
In my recent diaries I have documented the restoration of three salmon spawning creeks that run through Bellingham WA. Following a hundred and fifty years of plundering and industrial abuse, these streams are now undergoing some very impressive and largely effective restoration. In this process, I occasioned upon an ongoing natural phenomenon that I monitored over a six week period. While photographing Whatcom Creek for my most recent diary, I came across a cottonwood tree in Whatcom Falls Park, Bellingham, that was under siege by at least one beaver, gnawing its way around the trunk (see above photo). The cottonwood, a favorite of beavers, was located at the edge of the children’s fishing pond in the park and through which Whatcom Creek flows. The tree was destined to become beaver food, dam and/or lodge.
Derby Pond, Whatcom Falls Park. Note fallen tree across pond to the left
When I first noticed the tree, the beaver(s) had probably been working on it for a few days or so. It was particularly heartening that the park rangers had posted a sign on the tree stating that they were going to leave it to the beavers as it is their natural habitat and this is what beavers do. (They posted this on the tree on 12/13/13, see below). Not knowing that rate at which a beaver can fell a tree, I decided to check on their progress every two to three days. I began my observations on December 19, 2013 and continued on a regular basis over the next five weeks.
Park personnel statement on the Wildlife Tree
Beavers were plentiful locally and across much of North America prior to European settlement. Indeed, they were an integral part of forest watershed management and have been referred to “…an essential ecosystem engineer." They numbered in the millions across the western North America prior to their near extinction due to trapping in the 1800s.
There are two species of Beavers which are the second largest animals of the Order Rodentia. Within the family, Castoridae, the genus Castor contains two species: Castor fiber (European or Eurasian beaver) and Castor canadensis (the common, true, or North American beaver).
Each time I went to the park to check the beavers’ progress, there were several other interested observers also photographing and speculating when they would finish the job. All praised the park service for leaving the tree to the beavers.
On each visit to the tree, there was clear evidence of progress from the telltale signs of fresh wood chips. However they (it) were slower than I and others had expected. Since they were apparently nocturnal gnawers, we never saw them chewing and given the slow pace, there may have been only one at work.
Chewing progress as of 12/26/13
Beavers have very large teeth in proportion to their skull. Their teeth and are super-sturdy thanks to a coating of tough enamel. This enamel is orange to chestnut brown in color. Beavers' teeth grow continuously throughout their lives. As beavers chew through tree trunks and bark, their teeth get warn down, so the continuous growth of their teeth ensures they always have a good set of chompers available to them. To further assist them in their chewing endeavors, beavers have strong jaw muscles and significant biting strength.
Beavers' teeth are Orange due to the iron content of their food
Chewing progress by 1/14/2014
After having made nine separate trips to the park, over a month’s time, anxiously anticipating seeing a naturally fallen cottonwood, it became time for me to go under the knife - my appointment for a hip replacement. Not about to give up my surveillance of this drama, I commissioned my son and granddaughter (who had previously accompanied me to what had become sort if an outdoor shrine), to keep following the progress while I convalesced. On January 27 they observed that the tree was down. However, it had some help from the rangers’ chain saw. The rangers felt that it was time for the tree to come down for safety since it was right on a very popular running and biking trail. As you can see below, the beavers did the majority of the work on tree. The rangers did cut it down but left the trunk and limbs available to the beavers to do with what they do. I finally was able to return to the shrine on February 11th. The photo below depicts the way the rangers left the tree. However, it was difficult to determine if the beavers had done any additional chewing or not.
The fallen tree, a joint effort.
As I noted above, a large number of folks had also been following the beavers’ progress. The community’s sentiments were expressed by a Bellingham family in a letter to the editor of our local newspaper.
We are so thankful to the parks department for allowing us this invaluable experience. The tree was in a place where they could have easily chopped it down as soon as the beaver had started the “damage.” Instead, they left it, giving our community the opportunity to watch the wonders of our natural world in our own backyard.Bellinghamsters, as we call ourselves, (I guess we are rodents too) were cheering for the beavers and praising park rangers.
Seattle WA, January, 2014
Interestingly, at about the same time something similar was going on in Seattle, just 85 miles to our south and in a much larger urban area. There, a group of citizens were up in arms because beavers had invaded two man-made ponds situated in Golden Gardens Park near the Ballard district in Seattle. The ponds and the surrounding trees, planted by volunteers were a favorite peaceful birding site for Seattlites – Until the beavers showed up.
Although the park personnel at Golden Gardens were receiving numerous calls and visits from irate citizens, they remained very much of the same mind as their counterparts in Bellingham.
Seattle Parks and Recreation estimates the rodents have downed 65 to 75 trees so they could eat the bark, and build a dam and a lodge. The parks department says their tree cutting is just part of nature. It’s not going to relocate the beavers.In contrast, the birders had a contrary view of the rodents who were destroying their nature site, even though it was all man-made with planted trees and dug out ponds.
What we’ve decided to do is work on how to manage the beavers. They’ve been here before Europeans. It’s their habitat.” Beavers were common enough that Ballard High School has nicknamed itself the Beavers…”,
One frustrated birder commented:
Burley is a bird watcher.The irony of these irate birders wanting to be rid of the pesky gnawers is that several studies demonstrate that beaver ponds and dams are critical to maintaining waterfowl and other birds. For example, a 2008 study sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society, published in the journal:Western North American Naturalist demonstrated that such beaver activity is critical for maintaining pond side vegetation that in turn brings birds to the area. It concluded that the more dams beavers build, the more abundant and diverse local songbirds become.
“All these migratory birds used to come through. The first one I remember that quit coming back was a red-winged blackbird. Then all kinds of other birds quit coming back. Warblers, all kinds of sparrows.” Burley says he understands that this is a natural habitat for beavers. “I’m not a beaver hater,” says Burley. “But I don’t understand why they’re protected. They’re like rats. …Why can’t they trap and relocate them, and save the birds?”
One visitor says there has been talk of trapping and killing them.
Perhaps the birders just need to wait until the dams and lodges are built before the birds come back.
And so, there it is, a tale of two cities, different as they are. Fortunately, the only death and destruction here were a few replaceable trees. The beavers will endure and build.
I do not mean to paint all Seattleites with this one broad brush as beaver haters. In fact many online responses to the article in the Seattle Times were quite supportive of the rangers’ position and some even got snarky toward those who depicted beavers as flat tailed and buck teethed evil incarnate. Furthermore, I realize that there are many sympathetic Kosacks in Seattle and in particular I mean no offense to our BYS master birder, bwren.
So, what do you think about beavers? Are they critical engineers of the ecosystem or bothersome rodents? Let’s hear your take on beavers and any of your personal beaver tales.
"Green Diary Rescue" is Back!
After a hiatus of over 1 1/2 years, Meteor Blades has revived his excellent series. As MB explained, this weekly diary is a "round-up with excerpts and links... of the hard work so many Kossacks put into bringing matters of environmental concern to the community... I'll be starting out with some commentary of my own on an issue related to the environment, a word I take in its broadest meaning."
"Green Diary Rescue" will be posted every Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page. Be sure to recommend and comment in the diary.