July 31, 2014

Elyria
Sunny
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Leave it to Beaver…

Great Blue Heron dozes in the warm sun on a Beaver Lodge at Sandy Ridge. The night before had seen temperatures well below freezing.  Photo by Tom Mahl

Great Blue Heron dozes in the warm sun on a Beaver Lodge at Sandy Ridge. The night before had seen temperatures well below freezing. Photo by Tom Mahl

The next time you find yourself in Boston, crack open the yellow pages and you’ll find the curious heading, “Beaver basement water control”.  Some of you may have visions of mischievous hard-hat wearing rodents turning the wheels of basement plumbing drains in dark spaces. That’s the same misunderstanding of wildlife that has led to the need for this service to remove the wildlife that’s causing millions of dollars of damage every year in New England.

 

There’s no denying that trapping has declined in recent years to a fraction of what it once was. Fur prices have dropped as domestic demand has declined and supply from other countries has increased.  Our society has changed to where a teenage boy no longer feels the need to hustle and run a trap line before school, and today’s mothers don’t like the idea of their sons being out of the house before daylight running around in the marshes. Compounding the problem may be East Coast attitudes towards trapping which have outlawed economic and effective means like snaring and certain other types of traps.  Whatever the reasons, we don’t have trapping like we used to, and small animal populations (including muskrats, possums, raccoons and beavers) have exploded. To an area like Boston which is nearly at sea level, a few beaver dams can cause run-off, drainage and irrigation to wreak havoc in a hurry.

Here on the North Coast we’re a little more fortunate in several ways. We’re at a much higher elevation, most trapping methods are legal, and besides,  all the beaver have been gone from here for a hundred years.  Well, as they say, two out of three ain’t bad! The fact is the beaver is thriving in Lorain County.

It was while bluegill fishing in the mid 1990’s near Wellington that I saw my first local “bucktooth”.  At first I couldn’t make out what was causing the surface ripple traveling back and forth at what is now Caley Metro Park. Peering through my binoculars I could see a furry head shuttleing sticks to a lodge in the shallow pond, and I figured it was just a large and industrious muskrat. I stood up to leave, revealing myself from the weeds and heard for the first time a loud, sharp crack I’ll never forget.  At first my ears were telling me somebody had fired a .22 rifle across the pond, but my eyes revealed the sight of a beaver smacking his tail on the water’s surface, sounding the alarm and then diving for safety.

Since that day I’ve been on the lookout for Beaver signs that tell of their presence long before you’ll put eyes on the reclusive critters. Look for small fallen trees near waterways, where the gnaw marks of a beaver’s prominent front teeth will be apparent. You can measure the relative size of the beaver in an area by looking at the height of the gnaw marks on a stump. A beaver will not climb to cut a tree down, but stands on his hind legs at the highest.

I have trapper friends in Central Ohio who have shown me beaver pelts that would cover the hood of your car. I’ve personally crossed rivers in Southern Ohio walking on top of a winter dam that would hold three men abreast. Consider the destructive power of such a diverted river, and I think you’ll see that the city is not a place we want to encourage the beaver to live.

But a drive in the country isn’t necessary to find these signs any more. Chances are you pass the proverbially busy bucktooth on your way to work or just outside your neighborhood.  Over the years we’ve seen beaver populations pop up all over the place. At first farther south; Spencer and Chippewa Lakes in Medina County, and southern Lorain County as I mentioned before. Today the Black River has led beaver into Cascade Park and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are spotted soon in Lorain, if not already. An afternoon walk at North Ridgeville’s Sandy Ridge Reservation shows plenty of beaver sign and it’s a good bet they are in nearby areas like the Finwood Estate too.

Most of us grew up in an era where man took land away from nature and “developed” it for his own use. Nature is now showing us that the pendulum has swung the other way, and the beaver is coming back to places that are becoming “re-wilded”.