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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

Area beavers busier than you know what

June 4, 2010
By Jim Junttila

Any Yooper brookie fisherman will tell you the economic stimulus plan has kicked in big-time for beavers. Yooper beavers have been busier than you know what this spring, putting on a full-pond press and enacting liberal overtime policies to complete multi-dam projects like their lives depended on it.

They do. The only reason they build dams is to protect themselves from predators. It's what they do. They can't stand the sound of running water.

If new dam starts, construction and completions are any indication, the economy is making a comeback in the Keweenaw. I keep a close watch on beaver dams as a leading economic indicator, especially when it comes to my brookie stock.

It's a bit of a love-hate relationship. I like beavers but I'm torn, and here's why. Their work is fishcally responsible in the short term, but destructive long-term.

"Area beavers have been at it since our early ice-out, with new chews galore in trout stream riparian areas," said WW&W wildlife correspondent Paris Hiltunen. "New dams are either complete, under construction, or on the drawing boards.

The North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) is a nocturnal, aquatic mammal of the order rodentia. They are natural-born architects, engineers, foresters and loggers, known for building dams and lodges and floating food and building materials to their construction sites. Beavers are always shovel-ready; they can turn farmland into waterfront property in a few all-nighters.

Beavers have an excellent Yooper work ethic, and are the most industrious, hardest-working rodents around. Their chisel-like teeth grow and sharpen continuously, so they don't wear down from chewing wood. They are persistence personified and the expression "busy as a beaver" is not an overstatement.

Beavers are the prototype of organized labor: The Keweenaw's most prime backwaters abound with new construction; Planning and site selection beavers scout target cricks for dam locations; logger beavers chew down all riparian trees and brush in sight; Weaver beavers weave them into a brush bundle dam, and mason beavers slap rocks, sticks and mud into the holes with their big flat tails until the job is done, ostensibly when they can't hear water running anymore.

Beaver dams give brookies a good temporary home. The fishing improves for the first year or two of a dam, but then it screws up the crick with blocked flow and silt-down. Otters and muskrats move in and the neighborhood goes to hell in a hand basket that looks, ironically enough, like a beaver dam.

Beaver thrive in riverine environments where cottonwood, dogwood, popple, alder, aspen and willow grow along the banks. It's ideal habitat, providing food and convenient building materials they don't have to drag too far. The farther from water a beaver has to go to chew down trees, the riskier the project becomes. There's no place a wily coyote or big bad wolf would rather be than between a beaver and its dam.

Few Keweenaw feeder streams escape beaver dams. Some become the size of small inland lakes, turning meadows and bottomland into wetlands and floodplains.

"When their logging and dam-building activities flood roads and private property, they become a nuisance," Hiltunen warned, "You can't blame landowners for wanting to shoot on sight," she empathized. "A good crew can throw up a dam overnight."

Beavers love popple and birch bark, but their favorite food is water lilies. Since dams create a safe haven for brookies, you'd think they'd eat them too, but no.

"They are well known for their alarm signal made by slapping their broad flat tails so loudly against the water as they dive, it sounds like a gunshot, alerting other beavers to danger." Paris continued. "Their webbed hind feet make them strong swimmers, staying under for up to 15 minutes."

"No matter what they say over at the Moose Lodge, the beaver is the national animal of Canada," Hiltunen added. "When I get a chance at an assignment like this, I'm all over it. I guess you'd call me an eager beaver."

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at



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