Beavers: Revisited

The last time I blogged about beavers, about a year ago, I wasn’t even sure I’d seen one. It’s been a crazy ride in the World of Beaver Belief!

Over the course of the past year, I have observed beavers regularly and taken detailed notes of each encounter. I see anywhere between one and four individuals eating, grooming, swimming, or playing in the ponds at The Clifton Institute where I still work. I’ve heard vocalizations and lots of chewing from within the three lodges the beavers have lived in at some point in the last year. I set up camera traps and and got one lousy picture. And I’m proud to say I’ve only been tail-slapped at once!

beaver CT photo
Lousy camera trap photo

Friends came to celebrate International Beaver Day on April 7, 2019. There was champagne. I suppose it could have been International Human Day for the beavers, because one came out right at dusk and swam in semi-circles around the dock where we sat, in perfect view. We all just looked at each other until it was too dark to see.

beaver day
Beaver out to celebrate its own holiday

Toward the end of the year, I was asked to speak on an ‘expert panel’ after a showing of the documentary Beaver Believers. I said yes, but got increasingly nervous. I’m not an expert on beavers!

Then I met Skip Lisle, the world’s foremost castor conflict mediator, according to Ben Goldfarb, author of Eager (more info below). He visited The Clifton Institute and we hiked around the ponds looking for beaver sign. We found tracks in the snow and he confirmed my suspicion about the location of this winter’s food cache.

me and skip
Myself and Skip Lisle, a celebrity in the beaver world and inventor of the Beaver Deceiver…

The next day he gave a presentation at Piedmont Environmental Council, which he began by singing Madonna. We got to see lots of pictures of the flow devices he engineers and he explained, as best he could, how they worked. A flow device basically allows beavers to remain on the landscape but controls the water level of their pond to prevent flooding. Now that Skip has abandoned his older models, he tries to custom-design each device to fit the topography and conditions of the site where he is working. If I learned nothing else from Skip, it’s that every beaver-created wetland site, or flowage in his words, is different.

Skip is a likable guy. He’s passionate- his agenda is obviously to keep beavers alive on the landscape- but he shares his knowledge and expertise in a matter-of-fact way. During his presentation, he said things like:

“God bless dead trees.”

“Everyone wants the outdoors to look like our carpeted living rooms!”

He showed a picture with a coconut next to a walnut to demonstrate the comparison between beaver and human brains and said, “Beavers are brilliant in their own instinctive way, but they do very little deductive reasoning. What they lack in intellectual prowess they make up in bluff and bluster.”

And my personal favorite:

“This is what habitat should look like: chaos!”

Finally it was the night of the panel. I enjoyed the film, Beaver Believers, although I was still nervous to speak afterward. It featured the stories of a biologist, a hydrologist, a botanist, an ecologist, a psychologist, and a hairdresser-turned-live-trapper who all work to restore beavers the American West. A summary of the panel, moderated by Amy Johnson from Virginia Working Landscapes, is available here, as a separate post.

While leaving the theater, a woman thanked me and said, “Wow! I’ve never left something so pumped up! I’m going to go home and read about beavers!”

2019 was an amazingly beaverful year, and after all these experiences I am more of a believer than ever.

Recommended Books About Beavers:

Eager: The Surprising Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb

Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver by Frances Backhouse

The Beaver Manifesto by Glynnis Hood

Beaver People to Follow on Twitter:

Steve Windels @TheBeaverDoctor

Dr. Emily Fairfax @EmilyFairfax

Helen McCallin @HelenMcCallin

Ben Goldfarb @ben_a_goldfarb

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