The Heart of New England
Leave it to Beavers
by Jeanne Prevett Sable

November ushers in the so-called
Beaver Moon, reminding us that while our squirrels, chipmunks, and other
more conspicuous forms of wildlife scurry about in preparation for winter, this
most industrious rodent is fervently undertaking what must be a monumental
winterization project.

The beaver will bide its wintertime in a dome-shaped abode constructed of
limbs and debris bound together by mud. The lodge includes a bark-lined
chamber, or common room, which sits above water in the middle or on the edge
of a swamp, and at least one underwater exit.

North America’s largest rodent, these interesting animals grow up to  4 feet long
and can weigh 60 pounds. They have webbed back feet and thick, waterproof
fur,  with specially adapted respiratory systems that allow them to remain
submerged for up to 20 minutes.  They can also gnaw underwater, using self-
sharpening upper and lower incisors which they must keep filed down by
constant use.  

Beavers have poor eyesight, and can be observed at relatively close range if you
approach quietly. A loud “slap” of the beaver’s flat tail on the water tells you  
you’ve been detected. I once watched a beaver as it turned a stick of poplar
between its paws, delicately nibbling the bark off in long, even rows, as if
munching an ear of corn. When every last scrap of bark was removed, the
beaver silently slipped underwater and came up several feet away, towing the
gleaming branch through a self-made maze of navigation channels leading to its
newly constructed dam site.

Speaking of beaver dams, it’s hard to say whether the words “beaver” and
“dam” are uttered more often in that order or the reverse, for these impressive
feats of engineering have plagued many a town road agent and land owner. In
earlier days, dynamite was frequently used to dismantle them. Even the most
tolerant of landowners has reluctantly resorted to trapping beavers after
watching his once-dry land disappear under several feet of water. But I like
beavers for the same reason I like an occasional rip-roaring Nor’easter—They
remind us that our man-made highway systems and land boundaries are of
little significance to Mother Nature. They knock us off our high horse for a
while, and bring things into perspective.

While I sympathize with those affected by flooded roads, yards and gardens,
and am opposed to the felling of trees by beavers without permits, I hope we
can find ways to work out our differences with this amusing animal—the
national symbol of Canada—enough to keep it in our midst. They were trapped
out of existence in New Hampshire in the 1600-1700’s, due the demand for
beaver felt and fur hats.  

The fur’s appeal is understandable. I well remember snuggling up to the lush,
thick fur on the cuffs and collar of my mother’s beaver trimmed coat as a young
child. Today we can easily substitute man-made fur or plant fiber for such
luxury, but I hope the beaver’s fall from commercial value won’t lessen
preservation efforts on its behalf,  as is often the case.  

The beaver’s work is not always at odds with ours.  My husband once utilized
neighboring beavers to help cut his firewood. It seems they were determined to
construct a dam, and all Charlie had to do was periodically harvest his ration of
firewood from the dam.  Soon an equal amount appeared in its place, all cut
and stacked, courtesy of the beavers.

In another instance, an absentee landowner who owned the water rights to a
local  millpond had been delinquent in maintaining the dam as required by
law.  In an effort to absolve his responsibility, he removed the boards to the
spillway, hoping to empty the pond. But the local beaver population protested.
Within days, they had reconstructed a stronger dam, and we soon had our local
pond back. I’ve also read reports of beavers being reintroduced for special
wetland restoration projects.

Just leave it to beavers.  
About the Author:

Jeanne Prevett Sable is an organic gardener, editor, and freelance writer based
in New Hampshire who specializes in farming and environmental issues, with
hundreds of articles published in local, regional, and national publications. She
has written environmental scripts for children's television, live puppet theater,
and the Web. She is also the author of
Seed Keepers of Crescentville, her first
swimming beaver
The Heart of New England
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