Eager Beavers

The large rodents' return to the Northeast causes unexpected side effects
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The large rodents' return to the Northeast causes unexpected side effects

Beavers are back: After nearly getting wiped out for their pelts in the 1800s, the big rodents survived mainly in Canada, but conservation efforts and the reclamation of farmland by forests have brought beavers back to the U.S. Experts estimate that between 10 and 15 million beavers now call the states home.

But in places like Massachusetts, beavers often thrive in woodland pockets of suburbia, where they overwhelm sewers and cause flooding with their highly effective dams. When humans break the dams up, these natural-born engineers simply rebuild. Treating this extra inflow costs municipalities big-time money, and suddenly a once-rare creature becomes a nuisance:

”We have a huge problem,” said David Pavlik, an engineer for the town of Lexington, where dams built by beavers have sent water flooding into the town’s sanitary sewers. “We trapped them,” he said. “We breached their dam. Nothing works. We are looking for long-term solutions.”

The solution might be simply accepting beavers as marvels of the natural world that can rebound and excel after our best efforts to turn them into hats. In fact, when beaver dams create new ecosystems in the midst of suburbia, it sounds damn near idyllic:

As (Laura Hajduk, a biologist with the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife) and (Dr. Mary B. Griffin, the state’s commissioner of fish and game) neared the pond, a group of wood ducks, alarmed by their approach, went squawking into the air. It was good to see them, Dr. Griffin said — they are among the species favored by hunters that the state is trying to encourage. She pointed to an osprey sitting on a dead tree. Ospreys were almost wiped out by DDT but are now back in Massachusetts, and this one was taking advantage of beaver-created habitat. Just then, a great blue heron glided to a landing in the pond, another guest of the beavers.

I'll take that over another boring suburban cul-de-sac any day of the week.

Hoping to spot more beavers in the wild? Here's a how-to.

—Ted Alvarez

Return of the once-rare beaver? Not in my Yard (NY Times)