by Todd Walker
North America’s largest rodent may be considered a nuisance to farmers, landowners, and highway departments. From a self-reliant perspective, this fury critter offers more benefits than damage in most cases.
Last weekend our family gathered to fulfill my brother’s request. After spreading most of his ashes in the lake behind my parents house, Kyle, my brother’s oldest son, and I took a small container of his ashes to the feeder creek where my brother and I spent many childhood hours catching crawdads and reenacting the Daniel Boone TV show.
Childhood memories were as fresh as the day our jack knives carved “CW” and “TW” in the paper-like bark of a massive Beech tree on the creeks bend. Kyle and I searched for the tree with no success.
I felt lost. Not just because my brother would never tramp these woods by my side…
The entire landscape surrounding what was once a creek full of boyhood memories and misadventures was unrecognizable. The stream which once flowed unobstructed under a thick hardwood canopy between two ridges was now a decade old beaver pond.
My eyes witnessed a complete transformation. Twenty-five yards to both sides of the creek grew a lush, green landscape of grasses, cattail, and other aquatic plants. The scenic vista stretched 100 yards with dead standing timber scatter intermittently. Our life had changed much like my beloved creek.
Kyle and ‘Abby’ walking on beaver pond sediment collected over the years. The creek of my youth had split which once ran three times the size on this spot.
Inspired by Scott Jones, Georgia native and author of A View to the Past – (and a recent roadkill beaver on my drive home) – this article highlights the importance of the fury woodland engineer. For further research on the role beavers and their habitat played in pre-history, read his book.
Jones pegged it when he wrote that the beaver is…
“next to fire and human activity, one of the premier agents of landscape and habitat alteration on this continent.”
Our upland creek had morphed into new ecosystem. Presented with a smorgasbord of new resources, the beaver pond could be viewed as a gnawing problem or…
The Gnawing Self-Reliance Solution
It’s a dam good idea! Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.
Seriously though, when a beaver couple selects their home site on a free-flowing stream or creek, landowners may look despairingly upon the beaver colony and the accompanying swimming hole. However, with a view to long-term self-reliance, one should consider leaving it to the beavers.
With the wetland area comes a host of new and beneficial resources for the homesteader, farmer, woodsman, foragers, primitive technologist, hunter/fisherman, wildlife, and the land itself.
Below are the top 18 resources available in your local beaver-built wetland habitat…
The Beaver (Castor canadensis)
Beavers were once near extinction in Georgia and the United States due to over-trapping and habitat loss. A reintroduction program in the 1940’s successfully repopulated our state and nation. In fact, they’re thriving to the point in Georgia that there is no closed season on harvesting beaver.
A harvested animal can be used for
- Meat – prepared correctly, beaver tenderloin, back straps, hams, and even the tail makes a tasty and nourishing meal.
- Pelt – composed of long, coarse hair with wooly undercoat, beaver pelts were luxuriously warm winter hat and mittens.
- Teeth – the chisel-sharp incisors make great primitive scrapers for wood carving tasks
- Castor glands – used in the perfume industry but are most valuable for trappers as a universal furbearer attractant. For those interested in trapping, check out this informative article on harvesting castor glands and oil to make your own attractant.
Not crazy about the thought of eating a large rodent? No problem. A beaver colony is full of southern hospitality. Their engineering feats offer accommodations for fury, feathery, and finned appetizing meals.
In mature beaver ponds, many species of fish are available. You may not catch one as large as the one I’m tangling with below, but rest assured, you can feed yourself and family from beaver ponds.
Landing a 25 pound carp
Limb hooks, fish traps, and trot lines are great for harvesting fish while you attend to other tasks of self-reliance. However, don’t discount cane poles! My brother and I pulled many a mess of fish from fishing holes with a homemade bamboo or sapling pole.
Venomous and non-venomous snakes are fond of wetland habitat.
Black snake resting his briar hammock
We didn’t get close enough to positively identify this one but we think it was a Black Racer (Coluber constrictor) due to its behavior. Racers like to climb and lay on vegetation. This guy/gal was using a clump of dead blackberry bushes like a drying rack.
Water moccasin is a venomous snake common in and around beaver ponds in Georgia
Watch your step when scouting for resources in beaver ponds. The only venomous snakes in our area of Georgia to be concerned about are rattle snakes, cottonmouths (water moccasins), and copper heads.
Turtles and beavers go together. And, yes, turtles are edible.
This Common Snapping Turtle is next to a size 12 shoe for comparison
Foraging Flora and Fauna
False Nettles growing in sediment build up along the creek
River cane, Willow, Tulip Poplar, Arrowhead, Cattail, and other plants and trees that thrive in wetland habitat are available in and around beaver ponds. Always, always, correctly identify wild edibles before consuming.
Woodcraft and Primitive Skills
Debarked wood for tool handles, digging sticks, bow drill sets, shelter, and rabbit sticks can be found in beaver habitat. Wood removed from a dam will quickly be replaced with freshly gnawed logs. Some of my favorite walking sticks were removed from beaver ponds.
Flooded timber in our beaver pond is home to many woodpeckers
Try removing bark on a log using only primitive scraping tools and you’ll have a new appreciation for beaver-chewed wood.
Beaver damage to a maple on a small pond at the property
Firewood is plentiful, too. Beavers eat the bark off large diameter trunks killing the tree to open the canopy above. Standing dead, they eventually fall from wind storms or get gnawed down.
The spillway in the middle of one of the dams
Exercise caution tramping through beaver dams and ponds. Watch for hazards while admiring the beauty.
Wetlands and Stored Water
The natural way to create beneficial wetlands costs no money and is built by Mother Nature’s best engineer… the beaver. The beaver pond at the head of our lake provides critical habitat for waterfowl.
Even without the beaver pond, we have a deep water lake. However, landowners and farmers without a man-made lake or pond could benefit from a beaver-built watershed for irrigation.
- When water tables drop during drought, water will be available in beaver ponds.
- Dams also serve to naturally filter water and remove silt.
- Stable water supply for wildlife, livestock, and vegetation.
- Elevates ground water table.
- Formation of fertile beaver meadows after being silted in.
- Lifespan – 5 to 10 years in the wild
- Size – 30 to 50 inches from head to end of paddle tail
- Weight – 40 to 60 pounds fully grown; the Ice Age beaver, Castoroides, was said to have weighed 400 pounds… that’s a big beaver! (Source:A View to the Past)
- Diet – Southeastern beavers eat tree bark: Sweetgum, Willow, Dogwood, Tulip Poplar, Pine, Cottonwood, Maple and most any tree available. They also dine on aquatic plants, roots, fruit, and tubers and stems of plants in the beaver habitat. Beavers will also venture into corn fields for meals.
- Identification – large rodent with orange teeth, coarse outer hair with a wooly undercoat, webbed feet with claws, and a paddle tail used as a rudder, warning signal when slapped on the top of water, and a prop when standing to gnaw trees.
- Natural Predators – Bear, bobcat, cougar, coyote, and humans
- Shelter – Beavers build dens in lodges in the ponds they’ve created. They burrow into banks mostly in my area and not the typical beaver lodge. On deep water lakes and larger rivers, bank dens are their homes. We call these critters bank beavers.
The gnawing solutions are worth consideration by every student of self-reliance for long-term sustainability. What do you think? Benefit or nuisance?
Though I lost the Beech tree containing our initials due to flooded beaver habitat, our property has gained a valuable wetland resource. Plus, Kyle, part of the next generation of Walkers, found his initials he’d carved in a smaller Beech tree and forgotten about. I think I’ll go add “CW” and “TW” to this new family tree.
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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