Archive for the ‘Beavers’ Category

Wisconsin gets attention

Posted by heidi08 On July - 6 - 2015ADD COMMENTS

Looks like Wisconsin’s unique trout protection strategy is getting noticed. Yesterday I was sent this great article from the TU president who invited me to speak this year in Coloma. It’s from a beautiful outdoorsy website called “Cutter Light” in Alaska. Capture

Wisconsin Wildlife Services Removes 100’s of Beaver Dams Each Year, Many by Explosives

This video  showing a beaver dam being blasted sky high by Wisconsin Wildlife Services in the name of “improving habitat for trout” left us speechless. We’re interested to know what readers think of this strategy for managing wildlife and natural resources.

Barbra and I watched this video and listened to these comments with our jaws hanging open. Speechless. After about two minutes, the video came to an end.

 “Wow,” was all we could manage to articulate at first. And then again, “Wow.”

For the past day, we’ve been researching this issue as thoroughly as we’re able to, reaching out to Trout Unlimited groups in Wisconsin (at least one of which appears to support this management strategy) and kicking our own thoughts around between each other. We haven’t reached any conclusions. But we do have a few observations.

Beaver ponds represent biologically rich, exceptionally diverse, constantly changing micro-habitats within the larger forest.The many snags (dead trees) in this pond represent feeding opportunities for woodpeckers as well as potential cavity nesting sites for many species of birds and mammals. Eventually, this pond will become silted in, the beavers will leave, and a beaver meadow will replace the pond. These meadows, free from the shade of the forest canopy and with a bed of thick, fertile soil create places where unique species of flowers and other plants thrive. Black bears are among the many animals that visit these meadows to graze on the grasses and berries that may not exist elsewhere in the forest. The meadow itself will eventually be replaced by mature hardwood forest. So it has been in North America for thousands and thousands of years, with trout, beavers, bears and berries co-evolving.

Ohhh, I think this is going to get amazing. Pull up a chair and get comfortable.  I practically excepted the whole thing. Feel freed to go read it yourself. I’m sure Wisconsin is.

Beaver ponds represent dynamic, ever-changing micro-habitats that foster some of the greatest species diversity in the forests where they are found. We’re for biodiversity. As much as we enjoy trout fishing, we would never wish that our desire to catch a particular species of fish be placed above the overall health of an ecosystem.

 During the life of the beaver pond, it can provide vital habitat for all kinds of animals. As trees are drowned, they become snags. (One Wisconsin DNR report stated simply and that “beaver dams kill trees” – an example of how a statement can be both completely true and completely misleading. Dead trees are part of every healthy forest.) Pileated woodpeckers and other woodpeckers utilize these snags as forage bases and nesting sites. The cavities woodpeckers create in turn become nesting sites for flying squirrels, owls, wood ducks, and host of other mammals and birds. Meanwhile, these ponds become important stop-over or seasonal habitat for a variety of waterfowl and often attract shore nesting species. Tree swallows, flycatchers and similar passerines thrive in the edge habitat created by the beavers’ activity. Again, the snags provide nesting sites, and the cleared airspace above the insect-rich pond creates excellent feeding opportunities for insect eating birds as well as for bats.

 The pond itself becomes one the most biologically rich systems in the forest – perhaps the most biologically rich. Everything from burrowing mayflies to dragonflies and damselflies to a variety of aquatic beetles inhabit these waters. Amphibians such as newts, salamanders, toads and frogs inhabit these ponds as well, which provide vital nurseries for their young. Aquatic and semi-aquatic snakes take advantage of the smorgasbord, and in turn may provide a meal for a hawk. Deer, moose, turkeys and grouse are among the frequent visitors to the edge habitat found along the shores of these ponds.

 Silt prevented by the dam from moving downstream eventually creates a rich bed of mud which in turn fosters the growth of aquatic vegetation. This vegetation may provide a meal for a moose or a migrating duck, a nursery for the young of certain fish species, a place for a tiger salamander to attach its eggs, or an ambush post for a predacious diving beetle. What’s best for trout is not necessarily best for the countless other species that depend on the habitat created by beaver ponds.

Moreover, because these dams cause water to pool, some of that water percolates down into subterranean aquifers. This should be an important consideration in a state that is rapidly pumping its aquifers dry.

It’s important to keep one other fact in mind. Salvalinus fontinalis, the native char most fishermen refer to as the brook trout, has been co-evolving with beavers and beaver dams for longer than humans have been on the North American continent. This sudden need to “manage” wildlife is an outcome of an ongoing series of humankind’s mismanagement of this planet.

Let’s be clear hear, this wasn’t written by ME or Michael Pollock’s mother. Barbara and Jack Donarchy are fairly well known wilderness-living writers, fishermen and photographers.  Their blogs gets way more traffic than this old thing, and is followed by countless others. All of whom will now turn in shock to Wisconsin DNR and say in chorus, WTF?

Check out the full page of very supportive comments whose minds were equally blown by the practice. One of this is from John Sikora who was the chapter president that invited me to Trout Unlimited this year. I think if we listen very closely we can hear the rusted shut DNR wheels of change grinding into motion. Maybe they’ll take my advice and experiment with ONE SMALL STREAM this year and see what happens if they let the dams and beavers remain.

the missing piece

Another fourth of July safely passed. We stayed on sight until 9 and the beavers and kits wisely stayed upstream. Except for Junior who went down to the dam when everyone was on the bridge and demonstrated damming behavior. There must have been 100 separate photos taken of him as people stopped to watch on the way to the fireworks.  We made sure there were signs for the festival which people remarked on and stopped to look at too. The best thing heard were several comments of “Where else can you see beavers on the way to fireworks?”

No where, I think.

Lots of odds and ends to talk about to day, as my in box has been accumulating. Let’s start with the annoying and work up to the inspirational, okay? The first was reported this weekend in the Sacramento Bee. Remind me never to hire a lawyer or doctor that had such a hard time remembering things in school that he used lies like THIS!

Their video study guides aim to keep it sketchy

MurderFinal

CaptureTwo video series, dubbed SketchyMedical and SketchyLaw, offer short, animated videos that illustrate biological or legal terms and concepts, using wordplay and nonliteral interpretations of the terms to help students better remember.

 The 11-video SketchyLaw series on criminal law features animated sketches of beavers chewing on bark to represent the various legal scenarios in felony murder; “BARRK” is the acronym commonly used by law students to remember the five felonies that can lead to a murder charge if someone dies in the process. As the animation progresses, Mueller narrates off-camera to explain the terms.

Beaver in trees so you can remember to watch out for murder charges? Call me a cynic. But I think in this world there are two types of brains. Let’s call them “Bowls” and “Colanders “. And if information is draining out of your head as fast as you put it in, you might be great at making spaghetti, but even if tree-climbing rodents can get you out of law school you won’t remember what your clients tell you anyway! Or what color tie the judge hates, or the best way to start oral argument with a mostly female jury. You get the idea. Law and Med school (and graduate school for that matter) are practice arenas. You have to make it there before you hit the big leagues.

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Speaking of the big leagues, there’s a new kid on the beaver management block worth talking about. Jakob Shockey attended the State of the Beaver Conference this year, met with Mike Callahan and others, and decided the watershed group he worked with needed a beaver expert. Folks helped raised funds to send him off to Massachusetts to train with Mike which I wrote about here. Now he’s opened his own shop with website here.

Capture Flow Devices

Flow devices can be used in a variety of situations to keep a beaver pond at a certain water level, or to protect a culvert or spillway from damming activity.

These designs essentially trick beaver into believing that their dam is holding water while sneaking it out, either through a caged drainage pipe (pictured) sunk into the middle of the pond or a trapezoidal protective fence.

 Over time, these solutions are far more cost-effective than lethal management of problem beaver, while also retaining the ecosystem services of beaver on the landscape.

 Contact us for more information on a potential solution to your beaver issues.

Welcome to the beaver ‘hood Jakob! It’s wonderful to have another expert on the west coast. We’ll be sure to send lots of folks your way. I already added a link to our blogroll, but let Worth A Dam know if we can help get the word out or maybe with a beaver photo for your cover page. We are happy to assist friends!

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Finally, I received this great paper from beaver friend close to home Jeff Baldwin at Sonoma State. In it he writes deftly about his idea of the way beavers shaped the country. It is a fairly intellectual paper, but you will be smarter at the end of it than you were at the beginning. Jeff already proved himself the intellectual heavy weight of the beaver crowd at the conference, where he thoroughly impressed everyone with his careful capacity to scour the literature and report unpopular truths even to a roomful of acolytes. He’s a brave man, and a very, very smart one.

Beaver as Historical Actors: In Theory and Practice

We now know that beaver dams change landscapes and hydrologies in important ways. Like the milldams on the Appalachian Piedmont they trap sediment. In north central Oregon, Pollack et al. found that in their first year beaver dams trapped enough sediment to raise the stream bed an average of 0.47 meters. Though stream bed aggradation slowed to about 0.075 meters (about 3 inches) in the sixth study year, the area of aggradation broadened significantly as sediment was increasingly deposited across the entire riparian area. Typically, given enough time beaver ponds fill in and become swales and then wet meadows.[4]

 Beaver dams essentially spread hydrologic flows across the entire flood plain. The surface of beaver ponds are typically at or near bank-full, meaning that a small increase in flow quickly expands the pond to cover its flood plain. Thus, high stream flows spread nutrients to riparian communities rather than washing them downstream where they have caused hyper-eutrophication and accompanying dead zones. Unlike incised streams whose surface is far below the flood plain and so drain water from the ground below flood plains, beaver ponds charge those soils and aquifers with water. Westbrook et al. explain that typically about one half of the water that flows through a dam-pool system travels through the soil. There it maintains moisture in wide riparian zones long in to dry periods. Typically water re-enters the stream at the temperature of the soil, a cool 54° F (12° C), conditions preferred by many fish species valued by Americans.[5]

Finally, when beaver are present, streams tend to have multiple shallow and shifting channels. For low gradient streams, ‘the model’ that conservationists have been working so hard to emulate bears little resemblance to an ‘un-disturbed stream.’ While one may be impressed with the extent of milldams in Appalachia, that anthropogenic environmental dialectic pales when compared to what beaver did, and still could do, to North American waterscapes. Yet very few historians, environmental historians, or environmental geographers take beaver, and other non-human beings to be historic actors, in and of themselves.

While beaver dams could help mitigate the effects of climate change, they could also help moderate the process. Because ponds are nutrient rich they become eutrophic, and as biota dies and decays anaerobically the ponds and meadows trap the carbon embodied therein. Similarly, the wetland soils around beaver ponds also work to sequester carbon. On a landscape scale, beaver ponds both moderate atmospheric carbon loading, and at local and watershed scales they mitigate increased seasonality. These biospheric relationships would, if allowed, respond in significant, novel, and historical ways to anthropogenic changes to Earth’s atmosphere and climate.[39]

Without the ecology background to inform my reading, I found this paper a little smarter than my brain could process. But I am happy to share it with s better minds than my own. On the most basic level, I am certain that Jeff is right and beavers function as actors on the human landscape and story. I am confident that if we read a little more of Dr. Baldwin we’ll be better equipped for these understandings. Thanks Jeff for your hard work!

Beaver Terrorists

Posted by heidi08 On July - 3 - 2015ADD COMMENTS

Did I really say for a moment we were winning? Silly, silly, me.
KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

 USDA exploding beaver dams to benefit trout

VILAS County – WI

Wildlife Services Project Leader Kelly Thiel directed the removal of the dam by blowing it up with explosives.

“The purpose of our work is to create a free-flowing stream for the benefit of the trout to be able to migrate up and down,” Thiel says. “If you have beaver dams in there, they can’t migrate, they’re locked in. To have a self-sustaining stream, it needs to be free-flowing.”

 Trout struggle to travel, spawn, and live without those cold, free-flowing streams.

 The U.S. Forest Service and Wisconsin DNR decide which streams Wildlife Services will clear. Of the approximately 1,500 miles of streams that Wildlife Services clears in northern Wisconsin, most of them are high-quality trout streams.

 The work leading up to a particular blast can take months or years. Wildlife Services surveys beaver populations on streams. Then, once it selects a stream for clearing, workers trap all the beavers near the dams in the spring or early summer. It blasts about 150 dams each year.

 ”This stuff detonates at 23,000 feet per second,” Thiel says, stringing a cord between containers of explosives.

 It took about three pounds of explosives to blow up this dam on the Little Deerskin River. Workers placed them strategically and double-checked all the equipment before clearing other people from the area and taking cover with a remote trigger.

 The explosion sent tree limbs, water, and other debris dozens of feet in the air.

Those lucky trout! Gosh,  I bet that water is so crystal clear afterwords when all that debris falls back into the stream. The fish must LOVE it, I mean not the baby fish that were hiding in the side sticks of the dam obviously because they were blown up, but the other fish that survive the falling limbs and rocks, they must love their new gritty home. And the predators must love it too because even after fish stop falling from the sky, there’s no cover left for the survivors. Easy pickin’s.

Ironically yesterday was the LAST day for Wisconsin to receive public comment on their truly disabled fishmisinformed beaver management plan. You remember, the one where they think even though research says beavers help trout in the wacky west, Wisconsin fish are weaker and their conditions are harder, and so they must be saved by painstakingly killing beavers and blowing up dams. I and others dutifully sent them comments containing actual science, but they will obviously ward it of with their powerful information-resistant shields and continue doing what they do.

At least USDA will get to keep having fun. For them buisiness is booming. BOOM BOOM BOOM!

Here are my submitted comments in case anyone’s interested. I was trying HARD not to be too sarcastic, but the last paragraph is my favorite.

Beaver Management Plan

 I’m interested in the research that has lead you to believe trout in Wisconsin function differently than trout in Utah, Colorado or Oregon. I’m surprised that no one in the audience of your webinar asked about this, or wanted to understand why you think the principles of hyporheic exchange operate differently in the badger state then in the west. Current research emphasizes the hydraulic pressure of water behind beaver dams push that water downward and promote exchange of groundwater into beaver streams, making them cooler.

 It surprises me that there is so much faith in the Avery study noting the co-occurrence of dam removal with trout population improvement. Obviously correlation doesn’t mean causation. A cursory review of the literature and periodicals of the time confirm that there were significant other changes to the watershed during that period, that could easily have affected fish health. To assume that this is reliably due to the reduction in beaver seems naïve and ahistorical.

 I was confused to hear that Wisconsin believes the population of beaver went up historically before this program was implemented, until I realized you were referring only to the baseline of the 1900’s – then it made sense. I’m not sure why you ignored the significant beaver population that existed before then. The fur trade brought the French to your state as early as the 1600’s I think, and obviously natives lived with beaver abundance long before that. In 1621 Samuel de Champlain described America’s pristine landscape and exclaimed that beaver occupied “every river, brook and rill.” Surely given the waterways of Wisconsin your landscape was no different. Your beaver population must have been prodigious, much, much higher than it was even before you instated the beaver management plan. If beaver really couldn’t co-exist with trout why didn’t the Dakota Sioux or Ojibwe complain about the abysmal fishing conditions?

 The attached study completed recently looked specifically at the issue of trout passage of beaver dams, and found that natives like brook and cutthroat passed easily in both directions, while nonnatives had more trouble. Are you suggesting that Wisconsin has fewer native trout? Or that the trout it has are disabled in some way?

It is regretful that when the issue of ‘protecting resources” was discussed in your presentation, you seemed fairly disinterested in the most impactful one you take for granted; the one that creates habitat, increases invertebrates, sequesters carbon, and stores water. As I just returned from presenting at the chapter presidents meeting at TU specifically on beaver and trout. I want to suggest that you select just one stream as a control to study what happens to fish population if you stop trapping beaver.

I think the results would surprise you.

Let’s cleanse the pallate with two lovely photos from Robin in Napa showing the barren ruined habitat that beavers leave in their destructive fish killing wake.

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Kit in tulocay Creek – Photo Robin Ellison

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Mink in Tulocay beaver pond – Robin Ellison

 

 

Beavers Unlimited

Posted by heidi08 On July - 2 - 2015ADD COMMENTS

Just in case you’re not sure I’m telling the truth about four kits, here’s the proof. Junior comes from the left for size comparison. One of the kits is a little meanie. I’m waiting for mom or dad to straighten him out.

We didn’t have to wait long to see all four. Hoping they agree to stay upstream through the fourth.

Now, as promised we can finally return to the fantastic Beaver article from Ducks Unlimited. It’s definitely worth our time.

Understanding Waterfowl: Beaver Ponds and Breeding Ducks – Growing beaver populations have created an abundance of high-quality habitat for waterfowl

“We have mined the northland, not for wheat, not for gold—but for fur. Now the fur seed is gone.”

Those words were spoken in 1938 by Ducks Unlimited Canada’s first general manager, Tom Main. He was relating his ideas about how to resolve the challenges facing waterfowl as DU began its first year of operation. Main and many others believed that beaver ponds were an integral component of the original habitat that once produced sky-darkening flocks of waterfowl. By the time DU started its conservation work, however, nearly all the beavers and the millions of ponds they had created along the continent’s rivers and streams were gone.

 Research has verified that beaver ponds provide important habitat for waterfowl. In a large study conducted by DU in the Clay Belt region of Ontario, the most abundant breeding duck in beaver pond–rich forests was the mallard. Other common breeding ducks on beaver ponds include cavity-nesting wood ducks, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, and common goldeneyes. Beaver ponds also provide breeding habitat for American black ducks, blue- and green-winged teal, American wigeon, and ring-necked ducks.

 Beaver populations have now expanded across the United States. In many areas, especially in the West, beavers are increasingly viewed as key partners in the restoration of diverse plant and animal communities. Beaver ponds provide vital habitat for many species of fish, amphibians, and birds while also conserving threatened water supplies and moderating downstream flooding.

 But what effect do beavers have on continental waterfowl populations? DU and others have long chronicled and fought the loss of wetlands important to waterfowl. Despite all our efforts, the net loss of wetlands has continued and even accelerated on the continent’s most important waterfowl breeding, migration, and wintering areas.

 As natural wetlands have declined, man-made water bodies such as reservoirs, storm-water retention basins, borrow pits, and golf course ponds have increased on the landscape. Many man-made ponds and lakes are of limited value to waterfowl, although they do serve some wetland functions. DU and its conservation partners restore, enhance, and protect high-quality natural wetlands that provide crucial habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. As nature’s wetland engineers, beavers are in the same business, and they do all the work themselves.

Beavers truly are a partner in wetlands restoration and maintenance, just as Tom Main had hoped they would be over 75 years ago.

High praise from a powerful lobby. I’m sure a lot of us might have mixed feelings about DU. (They want lots and lots of ducks to grow up big and strong so they can go out and shoot them.) But DU has done literally more wetlands restoration than we can imagine. They put their money where their guns are, and as a result they have saved many of the very species they are interested in hunting. They really are conservationists. Not my kind maybe, but conservationists all the same.

And they love beavers because they help them do this work. And that’s a big deal.

Not to hog all the camera time, Rusty sent a wonderful photo this week of an otter truly enjoying all that Tulocay beaver pond has to offer.

close your mouth

Close your mouth when you chew – photo Rusty Cohn

One more film from last night. This was heart-meltingly beautiful. Love mom’s foot in this video. Reminds me of a Degas painting.

images

Just Desserts for beavers

Posted by heidi08 On July - 1 - 2015Comments Off

There are not one but TWO awesome pieces of beaver news this morning. I’ll start with the pièce de résistance, a phrase which literally means the thing with staying power. Because that’s what this is. Really.

pollockMichael Pollock sent it to me yesterday on it’s glorious release.  He said getting out 1.0 was grueling and he was still seeing typos, but he asked me to give him thoughts about 2.o down the line.  Check out the title photograph for which it credits the Worth A Dam FOUNDATION.  We would have liked Cheryl’s name too but I’m happy we got the website. And this is exactly the kind of place we want our photos to be. Just read for yourself.

Beaver as a Partner in Restoration

More and more, restoration practitioners are using beaver to accomplish stream, wetland, and floodplain restoration. This is happening because, by constructing dams that impound water and retain sediment, beaver substantially alter the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the surrounding river ecosystem, providing benefits to plants, fish, and wildlife. The possible results are many, inclusive of : higher water tables; reconnected and expanded floodplains; more hyporheic exchange; higher summer base flows; expanded wetlands; improved water quality; greater habitat complexity; more diversity and richness in the populations of plants, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals; and overall increased complexity of the river ecosystem.

It starts with a review of the hydromorphic and geological effects of beaver dams, then talks about filtration, groundwater and biodiversity. Honestly. for the beaver nay-eayers on your list, this is a big dose of science from the heavy weights FWS, NOAA, and USFS. Even if you can read nothing else, take a look at the first chapter because it says literally everything you know to win the next five arguments you have about beavers.

Chapter 1—Effects of Beaver Dams on Physical and Biological Processes

Beaver impoundments change the spatial distribution of water (groundwater, pond, or stream), as well as the timing of its release and residence time in the watershed. Beaver dams impound water in ponds and pools, and these impoundments slow the flow of the stream; this holds the water within the stream reach for longer periods and can increase base flows (reviewed in Pollock et al. 2003). Indeed, some perennial streams transform into intermittent and/or ephemeral streams following the removal of beaver dams (Finley 1937, Wilen et al. 1975).

Conversely, reintroduced beaver have transformed some intermittent streams back to perennial streams (Dalke 1947, Pollock et al. 2003), and recolonizing beaver have transformed slightly losing streams to gaining streams ((Majerova et al. 2015).

Honestly every ecologist and politician needs to read this from cover to cover. It ends with first hand case studies of watersheds where beaver were introduced. And describes the successes they observed. I already told Michael it needs a section on restoration in URBAN streams and he says he lobbied for its inclusion but was denied.Thus far. Another something for version 2.0.

At the end is a list of resources for answering any burning beaver question that might arise. And guess what’s first?

Capture

That’s right.  Listed before the established forefathers of Beaver Solutions and BWW, the little upstart crows of beavers from martinez have first place in the queue. Along with the cover placement. We are the Alpha and the Omega of living with beavers. Could there be a better sign that we are doing the right thing? Not for me there couldn’t. (I mean another thousand readers couldn’t hurt, but I’d rather be the GO TO spot when folks have burning questions than anything else.)

Honestly the whole thing is such a useful, instructive, science-based labor of love that it will take me weeks to fully read. I did my best to splash its announcement around the four corners of the internet, but feel free to share with your unpersuaded friend(s) of choice. What a fine ending to June!

I think I’ll leave the DU article for tomorrow. But if you want a sneak peak here it is.

Understanding Waterfowl: Beaver Ponds and Breeding Ducks: Growing beaver populations have created an abundance of high-quality habitat for waterfowl

I sometimes get the feeling that we’re winning.

 

Everything old is new again

Posted by heidi08 On June - 29 - 2015Comments Off

The first time, ever I saw your face from Heidi Perryman on Vimeo.

Things are looking familiar down at the beaver dam. Three kits and at least four adults in residence, plus Junior. It all makes for some pretty exciting beaver viewing. Not to mention that apparently five out of the six new pairs of kit eyes are developing conjunctivitis just like the old days…Sheesh. Rickipedia pointed out that the e coli in Palo Alto streams all starts with grazing cattle in the upper watershed. And I bet that’s how our beavers got unlucky again. Another reason to dislike cows near open water. Funny that everyone assumes it’s the city life and chemicals that give our beavers a hard time, when its really the wide open spaces with cows.


Here the new kit is feeding alongside mom and dad. You can even see mom remind him of his manners. I particularly love how fully the kit is part of their lives. He goes where they go, does what they do. It makes me remember those rare moments as a child when I was allowed to tag along with my father to work. It was so exciting to be with him in his big world. Beavers always bring their kids to work. Every day, whether their mudding or damming or feeding. It’s part of the package.

Side by side from Heidi Perryman on Vimeo.

We’re still waiting for three kits to pose kindly in the same frame. But trust me, there are three. Apparently two share a similar gender or disposition and like to hang in pairs. But one is definitely his own beaver, and rejects the opportunities to crowd with his siblings. I think it’s the one with only one eye infected at the moment, so maybe that explains it. But since beavers groom their entire bodies and spread that bacteria around, I’m sure it will be both soon.

Let’s hope a high tide and some fresh salty water will help clean everyone soon. Mom’s been shaking her head a lot lately, so I’m guessing hers is an ear infection. Stupid cows.

With three kits and so many adults there’s always lots of time for my favorite thing. If your sound is up I think you’ll be able to hear a little of it here.

kit whining from Heidi Perryman on Vimeo.

Cotton Farmers with a Tail

Posted by heidi08 On June - 23 - 2015Comments Off

The Wonders Of Chemistry: Beavers, Beetles, And Cottonwoods

Capture

In the great stands of old cottonwood trees along prairie rivers, chemical skirmishes are taking place between beavers, cottonwoods, and a certain species of beetle. Beavers gnaw on the trees; the trees fight back with toxic compounds; and the beetles move in to feast on the toxins. But in this apparent conflict, all three species benefit.

The great stands of old cottonwood trees along the prairie rivers are called “gallery” forests, which aptly describes their spacious coolness and towering branches.  Beaver favor cottonwoods for food and building material for their lodges. When beaver fell cottonwood trees, the roots often re-sprout, establishing clones of young trees from the same parent. Although this is another way for the cottonwoods to regenerate, these sprouts rarely do well enough to grow into large gallery forests.

Now we get to the subtle intrigue. Tom Whittam, an ecologist in Arizona, discovered that cutting and foraging by beaver induce young cottonwood sprouts to produce large amounts of salicins and salicortins – toxic compounds that deter many animals and insects from feeding on the sprouts. 

 Beaver also accumulate these compounds in their castoreum, a stinky musk beavers use for scent marking and, incidentally, perfumers traditionally used in colognes. The salicin compounds in the castoreum help the beaver attract a mate, like adding a little extra spice to the beaver’s own cologne.

So by pruning the cottonwood beavers actually cultivate their ideal target crop. Isn’t that just what you’d expect from beavers?  They’re like farmers cultivating the perfect harvest. Since salicin is a main ingredient of Aspirin I bet it also helps with all those toothaches beavers must get on the job! I sure would like to see a gallery forest of cottonwood. It must sound amazing! (I used to call them ‘whispery trees‘.)

Here’s our farmer harvesting a little willow last night. Also rich in salicin by the way.

That’s a nice story of species coexistence. Just in time for another rabid beaver story. It’s officially summer you know.

Person bitten by suspected rabid beaver in Northern Harford, others may be exposed, health officials warn

Harford County health officials say a suspected rabid beaver bit a county resident on Friday afternoon in the Deer Creek Conservation Area off Sandy Hook Road in the Street area of Northern Harford.

 Although the victim is receiving the appropriate post-exposure rabies treatments, health officials say they remain concerned that the beaver came into contact with at least one dog that belongs to another person, and they are trying to find the dog’s owner who may have also been exposed.

 After biting the victim, the beaver quickly returned to the woods but might also have had contact around the same time of the other incident with a dog, believed to be a husky-chow mix, owned by another visitor to the park, the Health Department said.

I’m expecting this to blanket the news for the coming week. So the beaver wasn’t killed outright? That’s too bad because it means officials will just parole the area and kill every one  they find. I’m never comfortable with these stories because they seem to coincide so much with kit time. I guess if rabies incubation is 3-6 weeks, and the beaver was bit by a rabid dog when protecting the lodge because the kits were just born, the timing is about right for the west. Not really for Connecticut though.

Here’s mom beaver last night with a willow bouquet. Definitely not rabid.

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Wilow Bouquet: Photo by Cheryl Reynolds