Beaver Believer

The resurgence of wildlife in the neighborhood in recent weeks has resulted in documented sightings of wild rabbits and coyotes. At the beginning of May a friend looking out her kitchen window saw a large, brown visitor at her fishpond. It was a small, hungry beaver. “Frank,” as he came to be known, seemed to enjoy the large pond and the fresh fruit that was delivered to him by my friend’s daughter. He seemed to settle right in. Unfortunately, he also began to take great delight in the beautifully landscaped woodland garden. The Japanese maple was the first to go and it was apparent that by summer’s end there would be little left in the back yard if he kept up his pace. What to do? Call a “beaver relocator.”

My friend, who lives about 2 blocks west of Lake Washington near Denny Blaine beach, got hold of a permitted trapper who lives in Madison Park. He came and set up a suitcase trap and promised that Frank would be taken to the Tulalip Reservation which welcomes the resettling of beavers as the tribe works to restore salmon habitat in the foothills of the western Cascades. It was unusual, the trapper said, for beavers to be found in private Seattle gardens. But these are unusual days. In the end, Frank must have gotten wind of the plans and disappeared, refusing to be enticed by the fresh willows and alder that baited the live trap.

Frank is probably a juvenile. Beavers typically are encouraged to leave their colony when they reach about two years old and are sharing a lodge with parents and younger siblings. They head out solo, looking for their own territory, typically a half mile or more from their birthplace. They will begin looking for a mate soon after. Frank will one day grow to weigh about 60 pounds. The name “Frank” was a guess as it is difficult to tell the sex of a beaver by sight. This is a determination best made by smell, if you can get that close to their sex glands, which is not advised. Males smell like motor oil and females like old cheese. Frank’s front incisors were orange because of an iron-rich protective coating.

Beavers were once prolific in North America, numbering close to 400 million when the first Europeans arrived. By 1900, the fashion craze for beaver fur hats and accessories, and a growing reputation as a farmland pest, saw beaver numbers drop to 100,000. Today, there are about 15 million beavers in the United States. Being how beavers are rodents (the second largest in the world) they reproduce quickly, and their numbers will no doubt begin to grow as environmentalists realize the incredible contributions beavers make to the ecosystem. Beavers are now considered a “keystone species.”

Beavers rebuild Nature. Their damming of streams, done so they can build lodges that are safe from predators, results in the creation of quiet pools for young salmon. In addition to providing fish habitat, their lifestyle (the felling of trees for building and nourishment and dental care) creates wetlands which in turn provide habitat for butterflies and moose alike. They dig canals to bring additional water to their living areas and to skid small branches and logs along. This engineering, along with the ponds they construct, effects water storage and drainage. Their work actually lowers the temperature of water in some streams and rivers, a critical feature as we face the challenge of climate change.

There are dozens of beaver colonies around Lake Washington. The best-known local spot to see beavers is at Beaver Lodge, a public access area at the intersection of McGilvra and the Broadmoor golf course. Best time for viewing is at dusk. Patience is required as beavers can stay under water for 8 minutes.

A wonderful website for additional information is beaversnw.org which includes an astonishing aerial photo of the waterways beavers have made in the wetlands at the west end of the Montlake Community Center. And there’s a book that will convince you that beavers can literally change the world: Eager: The Surprising Secret Lives of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb.

On a recent evening stroll near Leschi’s T Dock, we saw a beaver swimming toward the tip of the fallen pine that now floats on the lake’s surface. “Frank!” we shouted. We wish them the best.

~Anne Depue

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