Beavers Make Home in Lake Helene

Photo | Pam Schipper With a lodge built in close proximity to homes circling Lake Helene, beavers are difficult neighbors.

Photo | Pam Schipper
With a lodge built in close proximity to homes circling Lake Helene, beavers are
difficult neighbors.

If you are a member of the social media platform Nextdoor, you may have read or participated in the animated discussion regarding some furry neighbors who have moved into the area around Lake Helene: beavers. A reader posted photos from a walk with his dog that showed the beavers’ impressive handiwork on some trees. This led to a sprawling conversation about the marvels of nature, the hazards of damaged trees, the consequences of development, and learning to live in harmony with nature.

The beaver (Castor canadensis) is common in Montgomery County. The dams that the beavers create are beneficial to a wide variety of species including frogs, waterfowl and herons. A study that was published by the University of Rhode Island in 2015 revealed that the dams built by beavers can remove up to 45 percent of the nitrogen in creeks and streams. Nitrogen from chemical compounds and fertilizer is washed away by rain and ends up in our bodies of water. Their presence causes “dead zones” in the water, making it uninhabitable for fish and plants. (Note: This is also the reason that picking up your dog’s waste is so important.)

The ponds that are created from the dams do more than filter out nitrogen. They also help raise the water table and prevent erosion.

According to Nature Works, “Beavers can play a major role in succession. When beavers abandon their lodges and dams, aquatic plants take over the pond. Eventually, shrubs and other plants grow, and the area will become a meadow. The shrubs in the meadow will provide enough shade to allow tree seedlings to grow. Once the trees grow, they will take over, and the land will turn into a woodland area.”

While these hard-working critters are essential to a healthy ecosystem, they aren’t without their issues. The wetlands the beavers build can lead to flooding in low-lying areas. And, of course, the beaver’s four orange incisors do some serious damage to trees.

Photo | Pam Schipper Beavers’ incisors are orange because their thick enamel contains iron deposits, giving them the strength to cut through trees.

Photo | Pam Schipper
Beavers’ incisors are orange because their thick enamel contains iron deposits, giving them the strength to cut through trees.

Naturally, many residents are concerned about the damage to these trees and the safety of their homes if a tree is ultimately felled during a storm. Additionally, there is a risk to unsuspecting people taking walks around our local lakes should one of these trees fall at the wrong time.

The City of Gaithersburg is partnering with Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources to find a solution. The most recently damaged trees were removed in early November, bringing the tally of trees that met their fate at the hand of the beavers to nearly 50. In the meantime, protective wrapping has been installed around the larger, more mature trees to prevent further destruction. The current plan is to relocate the beavers in the spring.

The Muddy Branch Alliance, a local non-profit, is closely following the concern around the beavers in our area and hopes to further educate our community. The organization’s goal is “to protect the vulnerable natural environment that surrounds this stream, the Muddy Branch. From Gaithersburg, through North Potomac and eventually to the Potomac River, we want to ensure that the natural spaces in our area flourish into the future. As stewards of the Muddy Branch Watershed, we are committed to maintaining its water quality, natural habitat and ecological well-being. We do this by bringing neighbors together to build awareness, improve its natural habitat, and enhance the community’s enjoyment of the many creeks and streams within the watershed.” The group will be hosting an information session about our beaver friends at the Lakelands Clubhouse on Jan. 23, 2019 at 7 p.m. Seneca Creek State Park volunteer ranger Bonnie Bell will share her experiences with the beaver population.

Share