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6/29/16- Engineers of the Woods

th (1) IMG_1743 Beaver-Dam

by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

What animal do you think of when you hear the word “nuisance”? Most people think of rats or mice. Some might even consider squirrels a nuisance. I think that most landowners can agree that beavers are the most aggravating nuisance of all. The beaver, Castor canadensis, is the largest rodent in North America and they aren’t afraid to make themselves at home. These pests are known for damming up ponds and overflowing roads, but they can also create holding ponds for wood ducks and other waterfowl. Beavers have a unique history/movement, anatomy, and create a very tough row to hoe for landowners when it comes to managing these pests.

History/Movement

As previously mentioned, the beaver is the largest rodent in North America. They were once nearly extirpated but were then reintroduced and protected. They are now a pest in all states except Hawaii and Florida, which is only beaver free due to the large density of alligators. In 1900, trapping season was closed in Alabama. In1938, it was believed that there were only ~500 individuals present. Today, biologists assume that at least 150,000 individuals inhabit this continent. Each breeding pair builds its own lodge, which consist of the pair and their young, sometimes older juveniles inhabit the lodge as well. They rarely travel on land and prefer to stick to water because of their slow mobility. Beavers have a fairly small home range and are very territorial due to limited food supply. Home ranges can be ½ mile or 1 ½ miles of stream, depending on the density of beavers in an area and the quality of habitat present. They will mark their territory with castor, which makes them very easy to trap in a leg hold trap (side note: beaver castor is a popular ingredient in women’s perfume!).

Anatomy

Everyone is familiar with the large incisors that beavers possess, but did you know that if they didn’t rub against each other, they would grow to be 2 feet long?! They have aquatic dense fur, high eyes and nostrils, webbed feet, closable nostrils, and they close their mouth behind their incisors to enable them to chew while under water. Beavers also have internal reproductive organs and are hindgut fermenters. Hindgut fermenters feed mostly on cellulose (plants) and nutrient absorption takes place in the small intestine. This type of fermentation is less efficient because all the nutrient absorption takes place before it gets to the microorganisms and makes for a nutrient poor environment. To satisfy this issue, beavers are coprophagic (eat their own feces). This provides unabsorbed nutrients back to the microorganisms and balances the digestive system in beavers.

Management

Beavers are known to prey on sweetgums, cottonwoods, dogwoods, birch, poplars, and other species that have thin bark. The trees with thinner bark allow beavers to reach the Cambrian layer quicker (the yummiest). After they devour this layer, they use the rest of the tree for their dam. They lay the ends of the tree downstream and pack mud on the ends. They alternate between trees and mud until the dam is high enough (to house their food supply). Dams are no more than 50 m across and usually only 5-20 m. They often build more than one dam, but usually only have one lodge that they continue to grow. They also build canals in the banks and underground to travel for food. Because there are virtually no predators in the south (wolves in the north), it is up to human control to rid of these animals. The oldest management technique is to blow up dams with dynamite. Today, management techniques include the Clemson Beaver Pond Leveler, running pipes through culverts, and conibear traps (I suggest 330). Beaver management is time extensive and must be done continuously. You will probably end up trying all management techniques before you find the one that works best for you/your herd of beavers. If conibear trapping is your method of choice, DO NOT SET THEM ALONE OR WITHOUT SETTING TONGS. They will break your arm quick, fast, and in a hurry. Also, remove trees that are beaver foods!! Sweetgums are only good for beavers anyway, so might as well get rid of them.

Although very intelligent, sometimes the construction work of beavers is not appreciated. Now that you know a little bit about beavers and what they like, it may be a tad easier to manage them on your property. There are many trappers out there that have perfected their beaver trapping methods, but will charge you for it. So try it yourself first! Remove unwanted younger hardwoods with thinner bark and destroy dams. If beavers create a temporary pond for waterfowl and you rely on that overflow during duck season, then beaver management might not be on your list of priorities, and that is fine too. That is the beauty of being a landowner; you can manage the wildlife and wildlife habitat to fit your objectives! Regardless of your objectives, you gotta give it to them; they are pretty resourceful little critters.

By: Red Clay

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