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How to Protect Trees from Beavers

Beavers only have one litter per year and rarely overpopulate since two-year-olds leave each spring to seek new homes, and reproductive rates decline as the area is filled. Removing beavers rarely gives a lasting solution since survivors have larger litters, and others from surrounding areas will soon replace any that are removed.

Beavers prefer fast-growing trees, such as ash, hackberry, willow and cottonwood, which normally have little commercial value. Although the felling of these trees appears destructive, such pruning often results in more, bushier growth in the spring. For example, each cut willow stem can lead to three to four new stems. If the beavers then use the branches for a dam that creates a wetland, great benefits can result, such as erosion abatement, flood control, water cleansing and more biodiversity.

When it is desirable to protect trees from beaver felling, consider that most cutting occurs within five yards of shore, and that the likelihood of damage decreases as the distance from shore increases.

Beaver Paint

A new method to prevent beaver gnawing involves coating mature tree trunks with a sand and paint mixture. The paint can be color-coded to match the trees. Use 20 ounces of mason sand to one gallon of outdoor latex paint. Stir often and paint trunks about four feet high. Make only small batches at a time on the day it will be applied. Using too much sand causes mixture to roll off the tree. Young trees should not be painted. They should be protected with wire mesh cylinders.

Cylindrical Cages

Use 19-gauge hardware cloth or sturdy 2 x 4 inch welded wire fencing (NOT CHICKEN WIRE), about three feet high. Encircle the trunk, leaving a space of about six inches between the tree and the wire – this is very important to allow the tree room to grow. Bend every other horizontal wire into hooks to connect with the other side.

General Information

Beavers are a shining example of how wildlife can recover from the brink of extinction.  Their pelts were once so valuable they were the standard currency for colonist of the New World, and trapping had decimated the species by the early twentieth century.  Finally, given a degree of legal protection, beavers have been gradually recovering over the last century.  This process is likely to continue into the future.

Beavers, who are North America’s largest rodents, are vegetarians with a very diverse diet.  Deciduous trees like poplar, oak, elm, and ash are used for both food and building materials.  Their chisel-like teeth are covered with a protective coating of hard, yellowish-red enamel.  Their hind feet are webbed like a duck’s.  Flattened tails store fat in winter, act as rudders, and can be slapped on the water to sound a loud alarm.

Beavers are a “keystone” species – they fundamentally support wetland ecosystems.  Beavers create new habitat for insects, fish, birds, and other mammals by removing trees.  Beaver dams help prevent damage from flooding and erosion and filter sediments out of the water.

Beavers have made such a comeback that they are now found living in and around cities and towns.  Unfortunately, whenever wildlife and humans live in close proximity, there are bound to be conflicts.  A little patience and understanding can go a long way toward conflict resolution.  Nonlethal approaches have proven to be less costly and better for the environment than removal of resident animals.  Happily, creative thinking has led to truly ingenious ways to live in harmony with beavers.

People can live in harmony with wildlife – you just have to know your wild neighbors!

Adult beavers are 3 – 4 feet in length from nose to tail tip and weigh between 35 – 70 pounds.  They are generally, though not strictly, nocturnal; often active at dusk.  The birthing season is May and June and the young are dispersed from birth sites at about two years of age.

Beavers are monogamous.  They live in small family units called “colonies” and defend their territories from other beavers.  They can swim at speeds up to six mph.  While underwater, a special skin flap prevents them from swallowing water but leaves the front incisors exposed for carrying branches.  They are industrious manipulators of the environment who lives in close-knit family groups and build homes in the conical style of teepees and wigwams.  American Indians called them “little people”.

Family Lifebeavers

Beaver colonies have from one to ten or more individuals.  A “full” colony consists of one adult pair, the most recent litter of young, and the previous year’s offspring.  Most beavers leave their family groups at about two years of age to find territories and mates.  Pair bonds can last a lifetime.

Mating occurs during the winter.  Beavers produce one litter of three or four kits each year, usually in May and June.  Kits are born fully furred and are able to swim within hours of birth.  They are nursed for six weeks.  Once they are weaned, parental duties are shared by all members of the group.  In poorer habitats, beavers may have smaller litters or fail to reproduce entirely.

Dens, also known as lodges, are built from branches, mud, and other debris or dug into the banks of rivers and lakes.  A colony often maintains se3veral lodges, one or more dams, and – in the north – a food cache in fall and winter.

Injured or Orphaned Animals

Never try to capture or handle an injured, ill, or orphaned beaver on your own.  Adult beavers are formidable animals, even when weakened by disease or injury.  Orphaned beavers look cute and cuddly, and the idea of raising a kit can be appealing.  However, beavers make terrible pets – and municipal ordinances often prohibit keeping a wild animal as a pet.

Beaver kits, like all other infants, have unique nutritional reqquirements.  Infant formulas available at pet stores may claim to be appropriate for all small mammals, but this is simply not true.  Problems that result from an inappropriate diet, such as metabolic bone disease (also known as rickets), can debilitate an animal for life.

If you found an injured or orphaned beaver, contact 911 Wildlife immediately!