Beavers on the Move

Photo | Submitted The City of Gaithersburg plans to relocate the Lake Helene and Inspiration Lake beavers to the Seneca Creek watershed as soon as the beavers’ kits are old enough to survive on their own.

Photo | Submitted
The City of Gaithersburg plans to relocate the Lake Helene and Inspiration Lake beavers to the Seneca Creek watershed as soon as the beavers’ kits are old enough to survive on their own.

The beavers are at it again. It appears as though our furry neighbors have been on the go, moving on from their work in Lake Helene to Inspiration Lake. Just as it was several months ago, residents in Kentlands and Lakelands debated on the social networking service Nextdoor about the benefits of beavers in our lakes and the hazards created by their handiwork.

According to City Councilman Neil Harris, the city’s “Public Works department is awaiting delivery of another 2,000 feet of tree-wrapping materials … (when this arrives) the department will have a team wrapping the larger trees around the lakes. We are told by the state Department of Natural Resources that we should expect beavers to be more and more prevalent as time passes, much like deer have been, not just here but everywhere there is a suitable habitat. The city plans to relocate the beavers shortly when the relocation can be done without killing them. But … it’s reasonable to expect that, before too long, more beavers will appear, since the environment here is attractive to them. So, I’ve asked the staff to work with the appropriate state and other agencies to develop a policy for the longer term.”

Harris also suggested that citizens interested in sharing their opinions or concerns about the beavers—or any other issue—bring them before the City Council. Citizens can ask in advance for a particular topic to be placed on the City Council meeting agenda and open it for public discussion, making it “fair to any residents who want to weigh in on a subject where this is not a clear consensus.”

Following damage to trees near Lake Helene, the Muddy Branch Alliance held an informational session about beavers on Jan. 23 in the Lakelands Clubhouse. Guest speaker Bonnie Bell, volunteer ranger with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at Seneca Creek State Park, spoke about the lifestyle of beavers. Bell described ways to control beavers in the water and also noted that wire screen is the best way to protect the trees.

After Bell took questions from the audience, Trevin Law, manager of Animal Services of the City of Gaithersburg spoke. He shared that the decision had been made to relocate the beavers to the Seneca Creek watershed when the beavers’ kits are big enough to be on their own. The city was granted a permit from the State of Maryland to do this.

The decision to relocate was based on the flooding and water damage that the beavers cause. Ponds created from dam building raise the water table, which can lead to flooding in low-lying areas. Law also said that tree protection would continue, a task which falls under the purview of the Department of Public Works.

It’s important to note that while the beavers are responsible for the destruction of trees, their work plays a major role in succession. According to the National Park Service, “when beavers dam a stream, they set in motion a form of succession. The resulting backwater floods lowland near the creek. Trees are soon killed, creating an opening in the forest canopy. Water-associated plants and shrubs quickly invade the pond and shoreline, creating favorable habitat for waterfowl, blackbirds, amphibians, fish, insects, muskrats, wading birds, warblers, marsh hawks, and a score of other animals. After many years the water becomes shallow, filling in with silt and plant debris.

“Stimulated by the nutrient-rich mud, grasses, sedges, and shrubs begin to choke the water with their accumulating debris. The ground begins to firm as more silt is trapped.

“As years pass, the trees near the lodge are cut down by the beavers for use as food and shelter. The beavers must move on and find a new spot to support themselves. Without the beavers to keep it strong, the old dam collapses, draining the pond. The area becomes meadow, supporting grasses, sedges, and other flowering plants. Trees begin to re-invade the drier ground and eventually the meadow reverts to forest. Centuries may be required to see this process completed.”

In the meantime, representatives of the Muddy Branch Alliance invited the audience to participate in their tree-planting events. These trees are often donated by the City of Gaithersburg.