We have been playing our own little version of Survivor here at Tails You Win Farm. In this episode, we have humans verses Mother Nature’s finest little workers: beavers.
A little background is in order here. I purchased this land, our little slice of the world, in 1997. It was an 80 acre tract that had been part of a larger ranch that was divided and to be sold in an auction. I experienced the thrill of sitting through the bidding, waiting for my moment. I held my breath as the bidding for my dream parcel of land reached what I knew was my financial ceiling. I held up my hand for what had to be my last bid. I sat in disbelief as the auctioneer encouraged the crowd by saying “don’t let $100 per acre stand between you and your dream” as the current bid–MY bid–sat at my maximum purchase price. “WHAT?” Yelled the voice inside my head at the enthusiastic auctioneer. “SHUT UP!” My reality was that $100 more per acre would most definitely stand between me and my dream.
Finally, after three agonizing hours of silence (ok, it was really just a few seconds), no one else raised their hand, no one raised the bid, and finally, blissfully, the gavel fell and the land was mine. Well, it was technically “ours.” At that time, “I” was a “we.” But within four years of buying the land, the “we” decided to divorce and the “I” decided the one thing in my seemingly shattered world that truly mattered, that truly gave me peace, was the land. My land. My dream.
So obviously there is a huge yadda-yadda-yadda between the auction and today. The fast forward is that I survived divorce, met and fell in love with a wonderful man who also shared my love for this undeveloped, blank canvas of dirt, grass, and trees. We built a barn, we built a home, we added a few fences, but basically, we left the land as we found it. Unspoiled, natural and beautiful.
Living here was and still is an adventure. I was raised in the city, but I always felt out of place there. I love animals. I love nature. I hug trees. Our theory with this land is that the wild beings that inhabit it were here before we moved in and it is our job to share this place with them in a responsible manner. The coyotes, deer, raccoons, rabbits, turtles, snakes, possums, armadillos, hawks, and more are all welcome friends. All are intriguing studies in wildlife.
We also have a beautiful pond in front of our house. When we built the house, we positioned it so we would have a view of the pond from our generous front porch. The pond is home to a healthy stock of fish. Turtles sun themselves on the banks during the summer months. Waterfowl use it as a migration hotel every fall and spring. Herons strut in the shallows. We have a paddle boat that allows us to peacefully share the pond with our wild friends. It’s all very Disney-esque. Snow White would be so happy here.
Our “share our home with nature” theory has worked very well for years. Very well. Until now. Enter the beavers.
About two years ago we discovered we had some new neighbors. Well, actually, the first thing we discovered was a willow tree neatly felled along the shore of our pond. The trunk of the tree had been nibbled to a sharp point about a foot above the ground. A little twilight surveillance revealed our industrious new friend gliding smoothly through the water with only his blocky brown head visible above the surface.
At first we were enchanted. The beaver was fascinating, industrious, and in his own beady-eyed little way, quite endearing. For a time. For a very short time.
How fun! How cute! Ok, he destroyed a tree we really liked, but it seemed a small price to pay for the right to witness a side of nature we had yet to experience. Sometimes he would even come out of hiding while we were in the paddle boat. He would glide by in surveillance mode and then smack the water sharply with his giant flat tail as he dove for cover. Apparently, he was not as happy about our invasion as we initially were with his.
Then we noticed just how many trees he had destroyed. And then we noticed the toll his extensive dens were taking on our shoreline, and more concerning, the dam that allowed our pond to exist. Hmmmm…not so darn cute now, Mr. Beaver. So we did a little research which led us to Ned, a local, humane wildlife control specialist known as the Skunk Whisperer. Ned taught us how to disrupt our beaver’s life just enough so that he would just decide to move away. And move away he did. Hooray! No harm, no foul.
But then last summer there was a drought. Every water source in the area dried up–creeks and ponds alike–with the exception of our lovely pond. Guess what? Yeah, the beaver moved back in and there was no way to send him away during a drought.
Most representatives of the “pest removal” community advised that the only resolution involved bullets and someone with a steady hand and and a good eye. Shoot Mr. Beaver? Shoot one of God’s creatures just because he was living his life the only way he knew how, in the only pond that was currently available? Well, no. I just could not condone that. I was determined to let the beaver stay until rains finally arrived to allow him to find another pond to destroy…I mean inhabit.
Well, the rains didn’t come that summer. Then we were into fall and winter. You can’t send a creature away from his home in the cold of winter, right? And then it was spring, and the rains did come. However, now we had seen more than one beaver in the pond and worried that they might have a little family inside their den. Well, you can’t send them away until the babies are old enough to survive, right? So we waited.
At this point the tree loss count was up well over 100 saplings and several mature trees. Our pond, that should have been filled to the brim by spring rains, was once again very low, apparently the result of the beaver den punching through a spot in our dam. Yes, our beautiful pond would not realize its potential again without some serious and expensive restoration. Great.
I have to admit that my love affair with our busy little friends was waning. Their last defender was seriously on the fence. Was I really going to have to face the reality that the only answer was to shoot these little guys?
I started justifying that scenario in my mind. The beavers were NOT here first. Actually, we were. The beavers were destroying a pond that was a vital resource for so many other creatures. If our pond dried up, where would the deer quench their thirst in the evenings? Where would the turtles hide? Where would our tired migratory friends stop for a well-deserved rest?
But still…kill them? Ugh. So one more call to my now-friend the Skunk Whisperer. Ned referred me to the one person he knew who was properly licensed and willing to humanely trap our no-longer-welcome guests. Once trapped, he would relocate them to a safe area where their natural instincts would no longer collide with humanity.
Enter Terry and his “clam-shell” traps. The traps were designed to capture beavers safely, keeping them partially in the water but safe from drowning. With careful supervision, the beavers could be trapped and quickly moved to a new habitat far, far away from our pond.
Safe, unharmed and headed to a new, wonderful habitat!
Two traps were set and baited with willow tree branches and some smelly brown stuff from a jar that Terry swore was to beavers what catnip is to cats. Around midnight that night I grabbed a flashlight and headed to the pond to check the traps. Lo and behold my little beam of light revealed two shining eyes and I heard a quiet, but meaningful hiss from the trap. Success!
Early the next morning, Terry returned to move the beaver to his new home before the heat of day could cause him any stress. The traps were reset in the hopes that we could quickly capture a second beaver–the one I knew to be our original visitor–a much larger, mature beaver.
Each night and day we checked the traps. Each night and day the traps remained untouched. Problem most definitely NOT solved. Then it happened. I glanced out my back windows to a neighboring pond, just across our property line. There, happily soaking in the shallows, was our beaver. I swear he saw me too and was doing the gopher dance from Caddy Shack…”I’m alright, don’t nobody worry ’bout me…”
If you ever wonder about the intelligence of beavers, I’m here to tell you that I find at least one representative of the species to be quite clever. Justin Beaver, as I now call him (because, no offense, but I’m not overly fond of Justin Bieber either–he needs to pull up his pants and go to college) has officially outfoxed us. I know that the pond he is currently occupying will likely dry up by the end of summer. I know that this fall he will likely move back to our pond. But be warned, Justin. This time, I will not care if it is summer, fall or winter and I will be ready for you. I have an eviction notice with your name on it.
We will continue to perform the balancing act that allows us, with our menagerie of farm animals and dogs, to coexist with our wild brethren in peace. But when it comes to Justin Beaver? Game on, my furry friend. Game on.