Donations are Needed to Save Unwanted Beavers from Kill Traps

 

Beaver Rescue on the Applegate River

Living on a river can be difficult these days, especially for the wildlife that has used them for homes and survival for millions of years. With shrinking habitat, and riparian encroachment, the American beaver has been challenged by trappers, traders, and settlers since before the foundation of the State of Oregon. These native inhabitants rely on the continued flow of creeks and rivers as well as the development of wide and varied riparian habitats. Influences to the landscape over the past 150 years or more has been dramatic and detrimental to beavers following the arrival of settlers and trappers.

I recently had the chance to experience the American beaver up close, something I had only read about or seen off in the distance in remote waterways. Most beaver inhabit pools or ponds that are dammed with sticks and logs, but some are found in muddy banks along larger streams. This particular beaver occupied a large slow water pool on the banks of the Applegate River. Numerous beaver sticks and small piles of woody debris could be seen in the river and along the banks where trails of muddy tracks lead upward to the surrounding hardwood riparian forest.

Stepping lightly, I ventured into the muddy banks to examine the humble structure where the beaver dug into the bank and covered the entrance with hundreds of small sticks. Although it did not look like much, there was a kind of special presence to the site. The quiet setting with the river slowly rolling by with swooshes and trickle sounds, deer on the opposite side grazed the low grass, and a pair of hawks circled and dove nearby. However, my fascination was with the young fish that seem to gather near the pile of sticks like a magnet attracts iron filings. There were hundreds of juvenile salmon clinging to the site for protection and survival. A school of what looked like Chinook or Coho salmon waiting for a time when they would migrate downstream and return to the sea for the next stage of their life cycle.

As I moved about on the waters edge, the fish darted off in mass to the opposite side of the pile and moved through the sticks as if they knew each hole and hiding place in the cluster. They seemed to know the beaver that occupied this den was a part of their life cycle and they needed its care. The sticks and muddy debris was the best place to gather a school of fish to summer over until their time to move downstream with spring flow. This was more than a hiding place for young fish, but a sanctuary for wildlife that depend on the beaver.

I had been brought along to see the process of removing the beaver from this site. A complaint had been filed due to property damage to several small trees along the bank. The landowner had found that the beaver had gnawed down cottonwood trees along the driveway, felling them into the road and blocking the way to his home. Other trees were in jeopardy if the beaver was allowed to continue with his habits. Rather than use a kill trap or shooting the animal, this beaver was given a chance to survive by calling the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The agency then refers the call to a specialist in beaver trapping from the non-profit Clean Air & Water, Inc to live trap the beaver. This one beaver may get a second chance.

The live trap is designed to catch the beaver during migration usually at night and is a “suitcase” trap that catches and holds the animal safely. Since these are nocturnal animals, these traps will be set for several days and nights until one is caught. The trapped beaver must be rescued immediately to keep it from harm and moved to a new site at once. Most trapped animals are vicious and dangerous, but beavers are not harmful unless provoked and stay quiet in the trap in the car as it awaits its fate.

Beavers are unique among large rodents, they have large flat tails that is used like a rudder to guide them through the water, and are vegetarians feeding on young trees and shrubs. They live in family groups that work tirelessly to create a home for themselves and relatives. Being social animals, each beaver establishes itself into a colony where the work can be shared. They are the only other animal, besides humans, that build and develop a home and surroundings as well as create habitat for themselves and many other species of wildlife. They are constantly at work chewing sticks, digging holes, and caring for their young. In their work, they can dam up a stream and pool water, holding back surface water onsite longer and releasing it slowly for long term discharge. This holding pond is the survival area for the family to hide from its predators such as coyote, mountain lions, bears, dogs, and humans.

Holding water on the land and releasing it slowly is only one important aspect beavers do. Ponds and wood debris collected by beavers are one of the best survival habitats for juvenile salmon. Beaver ponds slow flood waters, encourage deposition, and collect fine sediment that clogs streams. Ponds can raise the water table of the surrounding area, develop rich bottomland with high nitrogen levels, and reduce erosion. As the pond fills with sediment and the gets shallower, eventually the beavers will migrate to another spot, leaving the site to regenerate into a thick wetland that supports many species of wildlife dependant on the beavers work.

Transporting and relocating the trapped beaver to another site was the most rewarding part of this process. Once we reached the designated release site, the holding cage was dragged to the new area and the trap was opened. At first, the beaver could not understand what was happening to him. Confused, but still alive, it slowly slipped into the water and swam away to a deep pool on the opposite bank. Its nose broke water and black eyes stared back in relief. Sneaking a peak back, the beaver saw that it had been given another chance to live, another chance to establish a home, another chance to complete its life cycle in a tributary of the Rogue Basin.

As I drove home that night, I realized that something great had just happened to the beaver and to me. I had witnessed the relocation and release of one of the most important of animals in the river system. Considered a pest, a nuisance to mankind, this beaver had inspired hope to our efforts to help and save the salmon runs in the Rogue River Basin. It had risen from the mud of the Applegate River to the ranks of partner to society. With dedication to the river itself, we released this American icon, the lowly beaver to complete its life cycle. Questions remain as to the ultimate fate of the symbol of Oregon, the American beaver. Can we learn to protect and value the deeds of the busy beaver? Can man learn to live with this industrious builder? Where will the next beaver rescue occur and what chance does it have to survive?

Chas Rogers, Williams

CALENDAR

 

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PO Box 94
Williams, OR 97544

541 846 9175



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