FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Northern Virginia’s War of the Beavers pits human sprawl against Castor canadensis in a swampy morsel of fauna and flora surrounded by concrete, cars and money.
The setting is a miniature utopia called Huntley Meadows Park in privileged Fairfax County, half an hour south of the White House. This is a swampy second- and third-growth woodland choked with cattails. It is described, nevertheless, in a brochure available at the Visitor Center, as “a rich, natural island in the suburban sea.”
Meanwhile, those pesky beavers have run amuck — messing with the water levels, felling oaks and hickories, and generally doing what they have been doing since the Middle Pleistocene. “For an adult beaver, the only predator is the car,” Huntley’s director says, addressing a gathering of pro- and anti-beaverites.
I guess the Canadian reporter is on vacation, and drove 1500 miles south east to Virginia to see relatives. He decided to stop off at Huntley meadows where our friends Ann and Malcolm have been keeping an eye on the local beavers. Of course he didn’t actually see any beavers, because he was there in the daytime. He had to rely on their stock photo images. Brace yourselves.
Shouldn’t he be ashamed of himself? He is a grown reporter submitting his travel expenses and writing off lunch to post a stock photo of an OTTER on international news. Correction, I just read from his byline that he’s a Brooklyn-born Canadian reporter who lives in D.C. American as apple pie. Maybe he has no control over the photos they run with his article, but honestly call me next time! I can put you touch with amazing photos of the Huntley Meadows beavers. I’ve seen some egregious cases of mistaken identity in my life time, nutria mislabled as beaver, muskrat, even groundhog. But this – this hands down takes the birthday cake and makes a wish blowing out all the candles.
The director is an amiable expert named Kevin Munroe who knows every rail and redbud in the park. It is his duty to explain to the people of Fairfax County why, after 21 years of bitter contention, a detailed Beaver Behaviour Study, and more than 60 public meetings, the park’s stewards finally have decided to spend $3 million to turn Huntley’s seasonal ponds into a gated community for North America’s largest rodents.
This will involve the installation of a “Clemson Water Leveler System” comprising vinyl sheet pilings sunk three metres into a cordillera of lakeside mounds, sliding doors to keep the swamp in a perpetual state of “hemi-marsh,” and underwater pipes with cages around them to keep the beavers from gnawing through the arteries of their own purported salvation.
I can only hope that when they say “Clemson” they don’t actually mean the archaic pipe and fencing system of the 90′s because there’s plenty of better choices to solve their water problems. But then, since the director is telling everyone that adult beavers have no predators, we can’t be too sure. (no coyotes? mt. lions? bobcats? released pet alligators?) I suppose it’s conceivable you killed them all already but I’m sure there are plenty of big dogs that would be happy to chase a little beaver bait. Those beavers that had rabies last year got it from somewhere, and its fatal right?
Twenty years ago, I would have said ‘Protect, but don’t manage,’ ” Munroe says. “I grew up reading The Lorax. I would have been the one standing across the gate to keep hunters from coming in to shoot the deer. That was a tough decision to make: You’re going into a wildlife sanctuary to blow away Bambi?
“But we’ve seen invasive plants take over the forest and deer herds decimate the woodlands. Before Europeans came here, deer were controlled by wolves, by mountain lions, by Native Americans. How many of those do we have in Fairfax County now?” “Is this the human future?” I ask him. “Tiny fragments of the so-called ‘natural’ world heavily managed?” “The short answer is yes,” he replies. Then he tells us that river otters have been spotted this spring in Huntley Meadows Park. “River otters!” the audience clamours, exultant at the news. “River otters eat baby beavers,” says the naturalist, damming our joy. “It’s OK,” says Kevin Munroe. “Circle of life.”
There is something deeply irritating about this article, and its not just the otter or the furtive reference to Belarus. How many times have I personally written the park mangers at Huntley meadows? Thirty? They should be experts at beavers by now, even if the reporter can’t name three reasons why the keystone species shouldn’t be killed. Here’s a actual picture of the actual beavers at Huntley Meadows.