The beaver, our region’s largest rodent, is also one of its most important ecological players. Beavers are what ecologists consider a “keystone species“, meaning they have disproportionate importance to their natural communities – effects far greater than their modest numbers would suggest. The recovery of the North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) across much of the northeastern United States, after being trapped out a century-plus ago, is among the great conservation success stories of American history. It’s one we must not take for granted though as Beavers are all too easy to trap and hunt out of a region.
Beavers Enhance Adirondack Ecosystems
Beavers are consummate ecosystem enhancers, rivaled in the West by prairie dogs. Through their dam-building and tree-trimming work, Beavers create impoundments and wetlands, which in turn serve a wide range of wildlife, from dragonflies to trout to otters to songbirds. In our part of the world, where wildfire is not a common natural disturbance agent, Beavers are (along with wind-throw and ice storms) critical creators of natural openings that (unlike clearcuts) provide natural edge habitat without bringing in exotic species and pollution.
We are fortunate in the Adirondacks to have goodly numbers of Beavers, fostering pond and wet-meadow ecosystems that are among the richest in the Northeast. I’m especially lucky that my Adirondack home is next to a Beaver pond; and the many hours I’ve spent watching these robust rodents have left me in awe. Defying text-book prescriptions, they have merrily dined on hemlock saplings, even while young hardwoods stood nearby; and they have, to my untrained eyes at least, directionally-felled large trees to within inches of my cabin and wood-shed. This I take to be an apt warning: I am welcome on their land so long as I respect their authority.
Learn to Coexist with our Keystone Neighbors
Next time you hear a landowner or road-worker complain of the nuisances caused by Beavers, please urge them to reach for their binoculars rather than their guns or traps.
Where Beaver floods cannot be brooked, beaver-bafflers and other exclusionary devices provide benign alternatives to killing our keystone neighbors. Remember, too, restoring apex predators to our region, Cougar and Wolf especially, will help assure that Beaver numbers remain complementary to our native trees and flowers.
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.
- Beavers are born to bite wood, not people (feeds.newscientist.com)
- We need beavers, stop trapping (billingsgazette.com)
- Wild Ideas: Beavers: nature’s engineer (rappnews.com)
- Misplaced Fear of Cougars (and Other Predators) (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Feral Pigs in the Adirondacks (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Snowy Owl Sighting (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Tufted Duck at Essex Ferry Dock (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Mallard Jacuzzi (rosslynredux.com)
- Beavers Are Born To Bite Wood, Not People (diveintogreen.wordpress.com)