Beavers are gnawing at residents' patience

Rodents chew trees, dam up Sawmill Creek in Glen Burnie

April 18, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Now that the Japanese cherry trees in Washington have been saved from the imminent danger of marauding beavers, most people have forgotten about the toothy rodents that captured the international spotlight for their chewing crimes against nature.

Not Edith Lambert.

The 70-year-old Glen Burnie resident knows Sawmill Creek isn't the Potomac and her trees aren't national treasures. But as the world focused on the Tidal Basin beavers last weekend, she couldn't help thinking about her beaver woes.

Her life hasn't been the same since the big-toothed creatures swam up the Sawmill into her back yard more than a year ago. They've gnawed their way through old trees and built dams, virtually stopping up the creek. Water has seeped into lawns, creating mushy back yards for longtime homeowners who miss the sound of trickling water and worry about tumbling trees.

"It just struck me funny that they were on all kinds of lookouts for the beavers in Washington," said Lambert, who has lived on Glenview Avenue for 38 years. "We used to have a stream running through our yard. Now we've got a great big dammed-up creek. The thing that's really aggravating is they can move them in Washington, D.C. Why can't they move them in Glen Burnie?"

County and state officials say they've done all they can to stop the beavers of Sawmill Creek, including setting traps and repeatedly tearing down their dams. But Lambert and her neighbors say the industrious creatures haven't been controlled.

"It looks like the rodents are going to inherit the earth," Lambert said.

Peter Bendel, an outreach services technician with the state Department of Natural Resources, sees beavers in a more positive light.

"They are very opportunistic, very adaptive critters," he said. "We're trying to get people to realize that they're not a bad part of the ecosystem."

The state's beaver-trapping season runs from January through mid-March, Bendel said. County officials responding to beaver complaints are not permitted to remove the animals outside trapping season.

`Clinton's back yard'

Last weekend, after hearing about the Tidal Basin capture, Lambert asked a county worker why the National Park Service couldn't make an exception and also trap the Sawmill Creek beavers.

He told her, "That's Mr. Clinton's back yard."

Beverly Kuethe, another Glenview Avenue resident whose back yard has taken on a swamplike appearance since the beavers arrived, followed the beaver hunt in the nation's capital, too. "They were in a national park," Kuethe said, "but I think we're having just as severe a problem back here as they've had with the cherry trees."

John A. Morris, spokesman for Anne Arundel County's Department of Public Works, said the county hired a beaver trapper in January after residents complained. He bagged nine beavers, but Lambert and her neighbors say the dam building and tree chewing haven't slowed. Morris said county workers will tear down the beaver dams periodically until next year's trapping season.

"It's a continuous up and down, up and down," Kuethe said. But the numbers are stacked against the humans.

`They're here to stay'

Kenneth J. D'Loughy, central region manager with the state's Wildlife and Heritage Division, said beavers typically have two to four babies during a breeding season that runs from April to June. At that rate, nine beavers bagged and carried away can be quickly replaced by new arrivals.

Bendel said he visited Lambert's neighborhood last summer and determined that the situation didn't require emergency action. He said the department issues permits to bag beavers outside trapping season only in cases of severe road flooding or threats to life or property.

"These animals are here, and they're here to stay," Bendel said. "In 90 percent of complaint cases, people learn a little more about the animal and they're willing to live with them."

The Glenview Avenue humans say they've tried but don't feel too neighborly toward the beavers. Residents remember when Sawmill Creek ran clear and their children could dangle their feet in cool water. Now, the water is nearly still and brackish from accumulated silt.

The beavers' work is evident in trees that lean precariously, the white wood exposed at the trunk where the animals have chewed. Residents say they're gradually losing large portions of their back yards as spreading water saturates the ground. For the past two years, the neighborhood's annual block party -- held in back yards near the creek -- has been moved farther from the water because of wetness, Kuethe said.

Lambert is worried about her dogwood trees, a gift from her daughter, who died of breast cancer in 1996 at age 40. The trees don't like wet conditions. "They mean as much to me as the ones in Washington," said Lambert.

Cherry trees, prized remembrances -- trees are trees to chomping beavers.

`Important part of nature'

Bendel explained that the sound of moving water irritates beavers, much as the sound of fingernails scraping chalkboards bothers humans. They make dams to stop the incessant noise. And they have to chew wood. Otherwise, their two front teeth, which grow continuously, would curl into their skulls.

He also pointed out that the pondlike habitats created by beavers' dams attract a variety of wildlife, including bluefish, frogs, salamanders and crawfish.

"Beavers are an important part of nature," said DNR spokesman John Surrick, who noted that the state is sponsoring a Beaver Walk Saturday on the Northern Central Railroad Trail in Baltimore County to admire the beavers in the Gunpowder River.

Lambert and her neighbors say they won't be participating.

Pub Date: 4/18/99

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