Growing beaver population creating new problems

Growing beaver population creating new problems


CARBONDALE—What kind of neighbor would move in, cut down your favorite tree and flood your land by building a dam?

Yep. A beaver. Each year, about 20 percent of the beaver population begins roaming around, looking for new homes, says Alan Woolf, director of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory.

These “dispersing” beavers are juveniles, usually one to three years old, who strike out on their own after being forced from their natal lodges. For them, it’s just a natural part of growing up. But when the start re-contouring landscapes, they can create expensive conflicts with farmers, timber growers and others, explains Lance B. McNew, a master’s student working with Woolf and other lab staff o a project aimed at better predicting movements, minimizing damages and managing beaver in Illinois.

Right now, McNew is monitoring movements of nine young beaver, four males and five females, on whose tails he attached lightweight radio transmitters over the winter.

The beavers all grew up on wetlands on AMAX Coal Company’s reclaimed Delta strip mine, which straddles Williamson and Saline counties in southern Illinois.

“I’m trying to get a feel for what time of year they disperse and where they settle in order to make our census-taking and management decisions more accurate,” says McNew. “Beaver dispersal has been studied in other places, mostly for northern systems, but that data isn’t applicable here.”

For one thing, it warms up sooner here, and beaver appear to begin moving around earlier than they do up north, he says.

Beavers’ construction projects can create valuable habitat for waterfowl, fish, otters, muskrats, upland game birds and, of course, other beaver.

Trapped to near extinction in the United States and much of Canada by the 1900s, beaver populations have rebounded, thanks to government reintroduction programs begun some 75 years ago.

By 1930, only 100 beaver were left in Illinois. Now, they’re in “every nook and cranny in the state,” says McNew.

“They’re the only species besides humans who alter the environment to suit their needs. That’s why I especially like them,” he says, smiling.

“If you just sit and watch one, you’ll fall in love with the thing. They never rest. They’re always fixing something or storing food. You’ve just gotta love a hard worker like that,” says McNew.

All but one—a female yearling—have left home. And because there are no waterways leaving their home sites, they’ve had to do it the hard way—crawling over scrubland, not paddling through streams.

McNew’s project, along with related research being done at the lab, will help provide an accurate census of beaver, their distributions and methods for detecting changes in their populations in Illinois.

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