Growing beaver population creating new problems
CARBONDALEWhat 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, its 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 masters 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 Companys reclaimed Delta strip mine, which straddles Williamson and Saline counties in southern Illinois.
Im 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 isnt 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, theyre in every nook and cranny in the state, says McNew.
Theyre the only species besides humans who alter the environment to suit their needs. Thats why I especially like them, he says, smiling.
If you just sit and watch one, youll fall in love with the thing. They never rest. Theyre always fixing something or storing food. Youve just gotta love a hard worker like that, says McNew.
All but onea female yearlinghave left home. And because there are no waterways leaving their home sites, theyve had to do it the hard waycrawling over scrubland, not paddling through streams.
McNews 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.