Are Beavers Moving into Town Due to the Drought?

A few days ago, Dr. Frances “Ab” Abernethy called me. Ab is a fabled historian, folklorist, trail builder, and professor emeritus of English at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Among many other things, he is “editor emeritus” of the Texas Folklore Society. He tells me that these buck-toothed hydrological engineers are moving right into town along Lanana and Bonita creeks, chopping down trees up to 10-12 inches in diameter for food, dams, and lodges. My assumption is that the drought is largely to blame for their increase along these creeks, as other streams are going completely dry.

Nowadays, these furry, flat-tailed animals are overpopulating many East Texas areas. They dam up streams and flood out grazing and crop land, causing millions of dollars of damage. Show a beaver running water and it’ll make a personal vow to plug it up. I’ve had several calls from local people about beavers chopping down trees on their property. A beaver even showed up in a swimming pool in Waterford, a plush neighborhood in Nacogdoches. Sounds reasonable. If I were a beaver I’d prefer a clear, clean, heated swimming pool, too. One even wandered into a home under construction in Colony Creek on Old Post Oak Road a few years ago, presumably checking it out for homesteading.

Micah Poteet, Technical Guidance Biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, tells me that some people use professional trappers to control beavers. But he says “nuisance” fur bearers like these beavers can be “taken” (that means killed) by a landowner by any means, at any time, day or night, in any season and in unlimited numbers. Some people use dynamite to blow up their dams and lodges. But, and this is important, the landowner may not keep the fur or parts of the dead beaver unless it was taken during regular trapping season and the “taker” has a valid license. So, hit the “bad guys” and leave ‘em lay. Maybe Predator Drones and Hellfire missiles ought to be given a try. Military operators sitting in air-conditioned rooms as far away as Las Vegas, Nevada remotely pilot drones on strikes in the Middle East, taking out terrorists. How ‘bout a few beavers, as well. Naw, those missiles cost about $68,000 apiece, not to mention flight costs for the drone.

Beavers are odd creatures. They swim, live in lakes, and have scaly tails. Long ago mountain men discovered that beavers were tasty critters. Personally, I think they taste awful. But Catholic trappers were concerned about eating meat on Fridays. Catholic Church leaders, based on the beavers’ description and behavior, ruled them to be fish, so go ahead and eat ‘em on Friday. I guess there were not any Bishops in the Church who were wildlife biologists.

They are speedy and graceful swimmers, using their webbed hind feet as paddles and muscular tail for additional thrust and steering. Although they cannot breathe under water, beavers are able to stay under water for as long as fifteen minutes. Try that when you get bored. When they dive, flap-like valves in their ears and nostrils close to keep the water out.

These swimming “rats” prefer to eat tender herbaceous vegetation, but they also dine on the inner bark of aspen, cottonwood, willow, maple, and other tree species. Typically, they cut trees 3-4 inches in diameter, but I have seen aspens out west as large as 18 inches felled by beavers.

Beavers are mostly nocturnal, so you may not see them, just their damage and dams. If you want to observe them, look for their dams at the outflow of a pond or lake, or their lodges in deeper water. Sit very quietly, and if you’re lucky you may see the graceful ‘V’ wake of one of these interesting furry rodents as it patrols its territory, or hear the pistol-crack sound of their tail slapping the water as a danger signal, alerting others of your intrusion into their domain. Then they all snap their dive valves shut and head for the bottom!

Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.