Beavers gnaw away along Centennial Lake Signs include damage to over a dozen trees, construction of lodge

January 25, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

There's something brown and furry living in Centennial Lake -- and county officials have taken steps to make sure the creatures don't inflict too much damage on the local flora.

Less than a year after a pair of beavers caused a stir by felling trees along Lake Elkhorn in Columbia, beavers have left their mark at the 54-acre Centennial Lake near Ellicott City -- a man-made water hole better known for fishing, picnics and paddle boats.

More than a dozen beaver-damaged willows, other trees and some stumps could be seen on a recent afternoon, along with a beaver "lodge" at the southwestern end of the lakeshore.

"I see them pretty much two or three times a week," says Alice Webb, who walks at the park every morning. "They've really cut some trees down, [eating] just about anything they can get their mouths on."

So far, the damage is hardly catastrophic, says Philip Norman, dTC open space coordinator for the county Department of Parks and Recreation. Some of the damaged trees can resprout easily, he says. And officials aren't sure how many beavers live in the lake.

Even so, the county is taking precautions to make sure the beavers' work doesn't turn into a major timber operation.

Park personnel have wrapped wire fabric around specimen trees and trees dedicated as memorials along the lake. After the snow clears, Mr. Norman plans to return "to get a handle on how many beavers are at the lake."

Officials may have good reason to monitor the situation.

"Beaver are one animal that have the ability to modify habitat, and they can do a lot of damage real quickly," says Robert Colona, a furbearer project manager for the wildlife division of the Department of Natural Resources.

Aquatic animals with chisel-like teeth, webbed hind feet and flat broad tails, beavers average 20 to 40 pounds. They eat water plants and the layer of tree bark called cambium.

The animals use branches to build their homes, or lodges, which have underwater entrances, and build dams to block streams, says Marion Kinlein, an outdoor recreation planner for the Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel.

In warmer months, beavers retrieve branches and place them in the water and mud so they will have food when winter arrives, she says. Their stay in an area depends on the food supply.

Their habits can cause problems when the beavers intrude into suburban neighborhoods.

"Some people find beavers to be a nuisance because they come in their yards and cut down their trees," Mrs. Kinlein says. "There are some beaver-human conflicts."

Five years ago, beavers built dams and lodges in the Dorsey Hall neighborhood of West Columbia, causing residents to worry about flooding and sliding property values, Mr. Norman says. The county trapped three and relocated them, although one drowned in the process -- prompting an outcry.

Last spring, beaver activity was reported along Lake Elkhorn in Columbia's Village of Owen Brown.

Although beavers were almost trapped out of existence in Maryland in the late 1800s and late 1900s, they have rebounded in the last 20 years with the fall of the fur industry, Ms. Kinlein says.

In Howard, their numbers also appear to be on the rise. To control the population, the animals often are trapped, says Mr. Colona. Twelve were caught last year in Howard County.

Ms. Webb says she's not sure what to do about the beavers.

"They are God's critters," she says. "It's a tough call."

For more information on beavers, call the Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel at (410) 674-3304. On Feb. 3 and 17, the group is sponsoring a free educational program, "Beavers: Makers of the Marsh."

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