A week before Christmas, Springridge (part of Forest Lakes) resident Denise Wall was looking out the back window of her house into a creek at the bottom of the hill. To her horror, a trapper waist deep in the water was removing two dead beavers. He carried the beavers by their tails out of the wooded area and up the hill, throwing them in the bed of his truck.
“The emotions I felt were a mix of anger, helplessness and extreme sadness,” says Wall. “I had not slept the night before because I knew the beavers would probably not make it through the night.”
The beavers who built this dam won’t be returning, though others might come along to take advantage of their work.
For Wall, it was a tragic conclusion to a half week of effort for the beavers. Her husband, Josh, had attended a December 12 homeowners association meeting convened to discuss the removal of the mammals, after complaints by the Walls’ neighbors that the beavers were destroying trees and raising the water level dangerously high by damming up the creek. For the Wall family, the concerns were absurd.
“The waterline hasn’t gone up towards our houses,” says Josh. “All the water’s gone back into the woods, and if anyone’s going to be affected by it, it would be us.”
From their perspective, the beavers had created a natural majesty by constructing a 4′-high dam that transformed a 5′-wide streambed into a wetland pond. When the Wall family first noticed the dam six months earlier, they marveled at the furry rodents’ work and had frequently taken their children down to inspect the new habitat.
“We come back a couple times a week,” says Josh. He, his wife and their four home-schooled daughters are standing next to a portion of the creek where the beavers built their lodge. A smaller dam has been erected 50′ north. A pile of sticks sits on the bank nearby, materials the beavers planned to use to finish constructing their aqua home.
It was also here that the trapper laid his lethal wares just a few days earlier, most likely placing a trap in front of the underwater entrance to the lodge. “We were under the impression that live traps were going to be set, and that was not the case,” says Denise. The Springridge Homeowners Association requested that any questions be submitted by fax and were unable to prepare a response in time for publication.
In Virginia, beavers are classified as a nuisance along with bats, raccoons, skunks, possums, deer, squirrels and various other animals. By law, nuisance wildlife cannot be trapped and released elsewhere but must be euthanized. That’s if a neighborhood decides they can’t live with them. “The main complaint about beaver is their ability to destroy ornamental trees, usually in the yards of streams or lakeside houses,” says a state website.
“We need to peacefully co-exist with these wondrous rodents,” says Shawn Guinan of the Humane Society. He mailed information to the Homeowners Association on alternatives to lethal traps the day that they were set. “You can wrap or fence off trees of value,” Guinan offers as one option. He also recommends water flow control devices that can be installed, the best known being the “beaver baffler,” which consists of wire mesh piping that is inserted through the dam to prevent excessive flooding. Because a beaver is largely immobile on land, the animal will raise the dam’s height to bring the water and thus food into greater proximity. If the water cannot be raised, a beaver may choose to go elsewhere. “When food runs out, the beaver moves on,” Guinan says.
According to Guinan, killing the beavers is only a short-term fix. “If there is a suitable beaver habitat, beavers will find their way to it,” he says, predicting that they may return as soon as next spring.
If so, the Springridge neighborhood will be faced once again with not only beavers, but a family intent on preserving their lives. “Most people think I am strange for being this attached to wildlife that has been added to the nuisance list in our state,” says Denise Wall. “I could not imagine feeling any other way about a living creature. If we all lived more by our hearts and less by what we are afraid others will think about us, our world would be a much better place.”
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