Those buck-tooth dammers are back, big-time

  • Chuck Bolsinger

 

"Nine degrees," I called out, thigh-deep in the beaver pond.  On the bank, foot propped on an aspen log, Sam Bixler recorded the temperature. My other partner, Dave Bolger, called out the water temperature some 60 feet upstream from the slack water of the beaver pond: "Five degrees."

The icy stream was Pennock Creek, elevation 8,500 feet in the Colorado Rockies.  It was week three of Colorado State University's 10-week forestry camp, 55 miles west of Fort Collins.  We'd learn fundamentals of surveying, mapping, timber cruising, ecology, range management and wildlife biology, something that we were already hip-deep in on that day years ago.

Our assignment: "Map and quantify the influence of a beaver colony." Three-person teams were assigned alphabetically; thus, Bixler and Bolger got stuck with Bolsinger. Sam, meticulous, scrutinizing, commented on everything. Dave, curious, objective, patient, was the perfect scientist.  I was a farm boy from Kansas and enjoyed just being there, in the mountains.  As a team, we got along magnificently, the beginning, I assumed, of a long friendship.  But after summer camp I never saw Dave or Sam again.

We measured water temperature and pH, mapped the pond, profiled its bottom and measured the dam and lodge -- a pile of sticks -- then turned our attention to the beavers' activities on land.  They'd cut every aspen within a hundred feet of water but spurned closer Engelmann spruce and lodgepole pine.  The beaver had lugged aspen limbs and small boles to the creek, but large trunks still lay where they were felled, often attached to pointed stumps.  Some standing trees had multiple notches, ranging from near the ground to several feet high, the upper ones apparently made in deep snow. They resembled totem poles, making me wonder: Is that where the idea for totem poles came from?

After mapping and gathering data, we did a fish survey with help from a six-person team that laboriously hauled fish-shocker electrodes and a generator to the site. We learned that 4 degrees' difference in temperature (Celsius) between the upper stream and the pond equated to the difference between trout that grew to six or 10 inches long.

In the mountainous West, swift, cold, snow-melt streams such as Pennock Creek support relatively little aquatic life, and fish are usually few and small. The calm, warmer waters of beaver ponds are biologically richer and support more and larger fish, although global warming may be changing this.

Studies in Washington's Puget Sound Basin by Michael Pollock of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that in streams populated by beavers, coho salmon are larger and more plentiful than in streams without beavers.  Pollock believes restoring salmon runs will require restoring beaver populations.

In 1600, an estimated 60-to-100 million beavers lived in North America, coast to coast.  In the 1800s, beaver fur was highly desired for robes, coats and top hats.  Trappers eliminated beavers east of the Mississippi, then looked West. Thus a rodent spurred its own kind of gold rush, creating financial empires and prompting explorations, playing a role in settling the West.

In 1810, four years after Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis, Wilson Price Hunt's party embarked for the mouth of the Columbia in pursuit of beavers.  John Jacob Astor provided financial backing.

After nearing extinction, beavers began to make a comeback in the early 20th century and are now estimated at 10 million strong, and growing.  Trapping pressure has eased, and, like several other wildlife species, beavers are adapting to urban settings.  In 2007, a beaver, named "Jose," for New York Rep. Jose Serrano, built a lodge in the city's Bronx River, which had been beaverless for 200 years. In Portland, Ore., beavers now occupy Johnson Creek within the city limits, and -- perhaps grudgingly -- they share habitat with feral nutria near Portland International Airport.

Beaver populations continue to increase in Oregon, even though they're still trapped legally.  In addition to all the good things they do -- restoring wetlands, improving wildlife habitat, capturing sediment, reducing erosion and helping to control floods -- they also flood roads and farmland, plug culverts, dam irrigation ditches and cut down desirable trees.

This gets the beavers deported or dispatched; never mind that Oregon calls itself the Beaver State.

What if they flooded my bottomland or cut down my trees? Would I still yell, "Go, Beavers!" as I do at Oregon State football games?   Not likely.   Still, a beaver pond would make a great setting for a reunion of the partnership, Bixler-Bolger-Bolsinger, Beaver Investigators par excellence.   Where are you guys?

Chuck Bolsinger is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Boring, Oregon.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • PLANNING & BUILDING DIRECTOR
    Searching for candidates with a Bachelor's Degree in Planning, Community Development, or a related field with 7 years' experience in land use planning forums, including...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...