There’s good reason behind the saying ‘busy as a beaver’. These animals are very hard workers. This is apparent if you’ve ever seen the lodges and dams they build.
There are some things that farmers can do to get beavers out of ponds and streams and prevent their dams from flooding fields. Adding drainage systems to dams will keep water levels low so that beavers will abandon them. Trapping is also an option for removing these animals. Homeowners can prevent beavers from damaging trees with chemical sprays and by painting trees or surrounding them with wire mesh.
The following article will address many of the problems caused by beavers, how you can get them out ponds and streams, and prevent them from coming back. You’ll also learn interesting facts about these clever builders that you may not have known.
How to Get Beavers Out of a Pond
There were once millions of beavers living on every stream, lake, pond, and small river across North America. Beaver pelts were so valuable that fur trapping was a huge industry in North America for centuries. By the 1930s there were fewer than 100,000 beavers left with most of these found in Canada. More recently that number has been restored to an estimated six million.
Beavers are nocturnal creatures, so human interaction with them is not common. They are rarely seen in winter. While they do not hibernate, they sleep for long periods of time. Many homeowners will never have to deal with beavers damaging their property. These large rodents aren’t city dwellers, so there’s no danger of them chewing down fruit trees or building backyard lodges. For people living in rural areas near rivers, lakes, and streams, this otherwise harmless creature can cause problems.
There are humane ways to get beavers out of ponds. While, there are no effective beaver repellents available in a spray form, painting trees is one way to deter them. A mixture of latex paint and sand applied to the lower parts of trees works well. Wire mesh can also be wrapped around the tree to deter beavers.
There are government agencies, as well as environmental groups that will help landowners reduce the negative impact of beaver dams. Fencing is used to prevent beavers from building dams in certain areas.
Trapping is another option. There are both lethal and humane ways to trap beavers. Trapping beavers is not for amateurs. A body clamp is one of the most effective trapping methods, but also the most dangerous if you’re not careful. Even after you’ve successfully removed one beaver family, if ideal conditions remain more will soon move in. Prevention is the best option.
Many farmers use drain pipes in ponds to keep water levels low. This makes the pond an undesirable spot for a beaver dam or lodge.
How Do You Protect Trees from Beavers?
While beavers offer many environmental benefits, they are the indisputable champions of tree chomping. As a result, protecting trees from beavers is a major concern for homeowners living near lakes, marshes, or rivers.
One possible method of tree protection is to erect a fence around your property, or around a grove of trees. The fence can be as simple as wire mesh wrapped around posts or tree trunks. Beavers, however, are excellent diggers, so you’ll need to make sure there are no gaps they can exploit. This is problematic over uneven terrain, where it can be challenging to ensure that the entire fence is in contact with the ground.
For homeowners with uneven terrain, electric fences may seem like an ideal solution. Some people have reported good results with solar powered electric fence kits that are placed 4 feet above the ground. While these are typically used by farmers, people like the fact that they’re invisible, which is more aesthetically pleasing than a wire fence.
The downside to electric fences is the possibility that they may short out if a tree branch falls on them. Unlike a mesh fence, electric fences require regular testing and maintenance to ensure they’re in working order. Then, there’s the idea of shocking an animal, which isn’t appealing to many people, regardless of the damage that it’s doing to their property.
While dangerous or life-threatening outcomes from electric fences are rare, it is possible when they’re installed incorrectly, or when they lack certain features that prevent the victim from disengaging at the first shock. For example, fences without a pulsing feature can send continuous shocks to the victim’s body, which can result in serious conditions like loss of muscle control and cardiac arrest.
Overall, the most effective method for protecting trees from beavers is individual fencing for each tree, or around a small grove of trees. Although it’s a bit time-consuming, this technique is highly effective when it’s done correctly.
As a general rule, 2” by 4” mesh is the preferred mesh for tree fencing, since it’s the least likely to rust. You can also go with hardware mesh, but be aware that it’s very noticeable, and by far, the least aesthetically pleasing. Once you have your roll of mesh, cut a length of fencing long enough to encircle the tree trunk while leaving a 3 to 6 inch gap between the mesh and trunk. Without this gap, the fence will create a “girdling” effect that will prevent the trunk from growing.
Position the fencing around the tree trunk, then use wire fasteners or zip ties to fasten the sides. There’s no need to anchor the fence to the ground, and it can be easily cut at the bottom to accommodate any uneven terrain.
What Damage do Beavers Cause?
Beavers were once viewed as pests that caused flooding, destroyed vegetation, disrupted fish life, and caused soil erosion. The thinking on beavers and the damage they cause has changed in recent years. In fact, environmental scientists recognize the many benefits these dams create. For one, they raise the water tables alongside waterways which increases plant growth. Many government agencies are working to restore populations to prevent the loss of wetlands. Despite the benefits of beavers and their dams, they still cause problems for farmers.
Beavers are not a danger to humans and they are rarely seen during the day. They are excellent swimmers and can stay submerged in the water for up to 15 minutes. This time spent either underwater or in their lodges during the day means humans have very little contact with them.
Rabies in beavers is quite rare. If you see a beaver out during the daytime it could be rabid and should be avoided. Beaver attacks on humans are also quite rare. They are generally not aggressive animals but they will attack if they feel threatened or are surprised. This is true with any species of animal. It is best to observe them from afar or leave them alone entirely.
The main causes for complaint against these creatures is flooding and loss of vegetation. This problem is made worse after heavy rains or due to melting snow. The dams create additional blockage which can divert water into nearby fields. The effects of beaver dams are not entirely negative, however. Beaver dams create water reservoirs that are beneficial in times of drought. They also slow water movement which prevents serious flooding further downstream.
Beavers need wood to build their lodges and dams and they will chew down nearby trees for this purpose. They are mostly interested in trees such as birch, willow, alders, and poplar. They generally avoid conifer trees. Trees that are next to buildings should be protected against beavers with chemical repellent or by wrapping them in wire mesh. Generally, beavers avoid humans and choose trees away from human habitation. Due to their short legs and wide bodies, travelling for long distances on land is not easy. They prefer to stay close to the water at all times and that includes when they are looking for trees for their building.
Damage to Aquatic Life
A common misconception is that beavers will deplete the fish populations of stocked ponds. While this would certainly be a problem for landowners, it is not true. Beavers are true vegetarians whose diet consists of tree bark, stems, and twigs.
Is It Illegal to Kill a Beaver?
It’s always a good idea to check with local law enforcement agencies first, but generally it is legal for landowners to shoot beavers on their property. No hunting license is required for this or for trapping. Killing beavers is a short term solution, however. Ridding property of one or two beavers only allows others to move in. It is the conditions that are attracting beavers in the first place, so prevention is the best solution.
Beavers are a part of an ecosystem that includes larger predators such as wolves, coyotes, and even bears. Removing beavers from the food chain can upset the balance and lead to these predators seeking other food sources such as livestock. It’s best to contact local wildlife departments for advice on beaver removal.
Some states have effective beaver management plans that are designed to control the population, but beavers have ways of controlling their own populations. Female beavers give birth every spring to a litter of about four offspring called kits. If their surrounding habitat does not provide suitable resources to support a larger population, these kits will not leave the lodge in search of mates. Additionally, future litters will be smaller.
In any case, the damage beavers cause to trees is minimal in most cases and vegetation will grow back especially in the areas next to waterways where beavers have made their dams. Watching beaver activity is actually fun and rewarding and a great learning experience for kids.
Beavers rarely chew down older, bigger trees because it’s not worth the effort. They also avoid pine trees and won’t typically build dams near stands of pines . It’s important for landowners to understand the balance of nature and the negative impact human behavior, like killing beavers, can have on the ecosystem.
Why Do Beavers Abandon Their Dams?
Beavers construct dams in areas where the water level isn’t deep enough to keep them safe from predators. These ingenious rodents use branches and logs to dam lakes, rivers, and streams in order to create ponds of still water. Over this area, they’ll build a conical structure known as a lodge using mud, timber, and rocks.
The body of water surrounding the lodge offers excellent protection from predators, while providing a cozy home. Beavers are fiercely protective of their dam sites, and there’s almost nothing that will make a beaver abandon its home. However, a beaver may be driven out of its dam if the pond area becomes too shallow due to accumulating sediments.
In that case, the dam will eventually be breached and the water will drain out, leaving the beaver no choice but to look for another dam site. The rich layer of silt, branches, and dead vegetation left behind have many environmental benefits, including service as an ideal habitat for many wetland species.
Are Beavers Good or Bad for the Environment?
Beavers play a critical role in maintaining our wetlands, which have largely been lost to agriculture and urban development. Unfortunately, beavers have traditionally been blamed for wetland erosion, since they’re often associated with flooding that results from blockages created by their dams.
It is true that beaver dams sometimes contribute to flooding that occurs after heavy rain or snow. However, these dams also store water during periods of drought, while slowing down the movement of water into the river systems. These factors can actually help prevent the most serious forms of flooding.
Beavers are also blamed for mass destruction of our timber supply. This is an understandable concern for commercial forest operators, who estimate they lose millions of dollars each year due to the beaver’s ability to take down a tree in a matter of minutes.
In spite of these issues, beavers provide numerous benefits to their ecosystem, including the creation of more wetlands. When beavers make a dam, the still area of water in the stream becomes a pond or a section of wetland. That’s why diminished beaver populations typically result in dried-up wetlands and reduced populations of fish, waterfowl, and amphibians.
Beavers also play a significant role in the preservation of our planet. For example, beaver ponds store carbon, thereby keeping it out of the atmosphere, where it can contribute to the rising temperatures associated with global warming.
Are Beavers Beneficial?
Although beavers are immensely beneficial to the wetland ecosystem, these aren’t benefits that connect with many people on a personal level. However, most people do care about the quality and availability of groundwater. Believe it or not, beaver dams have a significant impact on storing and recharging depleted groundwater supplies.
When beavers build a dam, they create slow moving ponds and streams, which serve as a holding tank of sorts for various microbes. Some of these microbes help remove nitrogen compounds from the water, which could lead to the excessive growth of algae. When algae levels spin out of control, it often results in oxygen depletion that could have fatal consequences for fish and other aquatic wildlife.
Oxygen depleted groundwater isn’t healthy for humans, either. If you’ve ever come across water that with a funky odor, lack of clarity, or taste, there’s a good chance it doesn’t contain enough dissolved oxygen. Even if you’re not drinking this water, you’re still using it to bathe, water your garden, wash your clothes, and many other activities that put you in direct contact with its harmful effects.
In short, beavers and their dams are incredibly beneficial, despite the damage they cause to people’s yards and roadways. In particular, beavers are notorious for causing floods when their dams slow down the water flow and create blockages near homes. They can also block drainage structures and road culverts, which can lead to expensive and dangerous flooding conditions.
Fortunately, most communities have come to recognize the benefits of coexisting with beavers, rather than trapping or killing them. Flow devices, for example, typically involving perforated pipes and metal caging, can keep beaver ponds at safe levels without hurting the beavers or causing long-term damage to the environment.
Do Beavers Eat Cedar Trees?
It may seem like beavers will eat any tree they can get their teeth around, but they do actually have a preference for aspen, poplar, and cottonwood. They also enjoy apple, birch, cherry, and willow.
Their least favorite trees are conifers, which include cedar, as well as pines and hemlocks. These trees typically have needle-shaped leaves and seeds attached to a woody cone. Cedar is one of the best known conifers due to its decay and insect-resistant properties. It’s ideal for use in fencing, shingles, and outdoor furniture.
This is good news if you have a lot of cedar trees, or any other type of conifer, on your property. There’s one catch, though, that you should be aware of. While beavers don’t like to eat these trees, they’ve been known to “girdle,” or strip the bark around the base of the tree. It’s believed they do this to obtain needed nutrients, but it’s undeniably frustrating to any homeowner or arbor enthusiast.
As with the flooding issue, it’s best to coexist with these semi-aquatic mammals, rather than hurting or killing them. With a little bit of time and patience, you can easily protect your trees with mesh fencing that’s placed around the tree trunk. Just make sure to leave a 3 to 6 inch gap between the fence and the trunk so the tree has enough room to grow.
Are Beavers a Pest?
Beavers are technically classified as a pest due to the damage they cause when they build their dams. Indisputably, beaver dams are responsible for serious flood damage when they’re built near road culverts and drainage structures.
Along with flooding, beavers are notorious for destroying trees on residential properties and commercial forests, thanks to their thick, orange teeth, which can chew through just about anything. Thus, it’s unsurprising that many homeowners want these “nuisance” animals to be trapped and removed from their property.
There’s also the possibility of beavers transmitting viruses that can have deadly consequences for humans and pets. Rabies is the biggest concern, and there have been cases in recent years where rabid beavers have attacked humans and dogs. However, these incidents are very rare, and mainly seem to occur when people approach the beaver, either on purpose or by accident.
Another concern is the transmission of giardia, a parasite that causes gastrointestinal distress. Humans and pets have been known to contract giardia from beavers, which is commonly referred to as Beaver Fever. It should be noted, however, that giardia is commonly found in water, food, or surfaces of soil, which are the most likely sources of infection.
While attacks and illnesses from beavers are not a major concern, it’s still in your best interest to keep beavers off of your property. Many homeowners have tried repellents, which are generally ineffective. Calling a professional trapper can help, but doesn’t provide a long-term solution if there’s an entire colony of beavers in your area.
It’s far more effective to make your property as unattractive as possible to a beaver. Since their ultimate aim is to get at your trees, protecting them with beaver-proof fencing is an inexpensive way to discourage beavers from entering your yard.
Do Beavers Get Splinters in Their Mouth?
The anatomy of the beaver is truly an engineering marvel, and nowhere is this more evident than inside their mouth. We all know beavers have long, iron-tough teeth that helps them decimate a tree trunk in just minutes. But how does the beaver prevent itself from being poked and scratched by the resulting splinters?
The answer is in their second set of lips, which are positioned behind their teeth. By having two sets of lips, the beaver can cut and chew through wood without getting splinters or water in their mouth. Having a set of lips close behind their enormous teeth also helps them carry building materials and food through the water without drowning.
Beavers have many other adaptations that help them navigate the water, including nose and ear valves that stay shut while they’re underwater. Contrary to popular belief, beavers can’t actually breathe underwater so these valves are essential to keeping water out of their system.
However, a beaver can still stay underwater for about 15 minutes at a time. They do this by storing enough oxygen in their specially adapted respiratory system. In fact, beavers have been known to swim for up to half a mile underwater, which can be very helpful when they’re trying to evade predators.
These ingenious creatures also find ways to make up for their short-comings, like their poor eyesight. That’s why beavers mainly rely on their excellent hearing and superior sense of smell, which are vital for finding food, detecting danger, and finding members of their colony.
Because of their limited vision, beavers are more suited to daytime activities, but this became more difficult with land development to accommodate homes and farm properties. As a result, the modern-day beaver is considered a nocturnal creature.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare