Beavers eagerly gnaw on trees in Annapolis

Damage: Rodents are worrying residents and hampering the mayor's effort to protect old trees.

January 23, 2003|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Along the banks of Annapolis' Spa Creek, the trail of damage is striking: Small saplings, many of them poplars, have been whittled off at the base. Tree stubs dot the landscape. Even the trunks of towering white oaks carry scars.

Residents and city workers blame the area's newest neighbors, a family of beavers.

"I now understand the phrase `busy as a beaver' because they never stop," says Ona Truax, 67, who lives along the creek. She and her grandchildren have witnessed the damage in a city-managed area that borders her property.

At least one beaver dam -- spanning 30 feet or more -- has been spotted recently, and city officials suspect that another is under construction nearby. Still, Mayor Ellen O. Moyer and waterfront residents aren't trying to drive the critters away; in fact, they seem eager to coexist.

Moyer, who visited the dam this week, says she doesn't mind the beavers or their tree-gnawing habits, despite her efforts to protect the environment from rogue developers and to replenish the Colonial city's canopy of trees. As part of that effort, she recently introduced an amendment to the city code that would make it tougher to tamper with older trees.

The mayor, known for taking in feral cats and protecting ants from fumigation, says she won't consider exterminating the animals, which chew on bark and hard wood to grind down their chisel-like front teeth. Those teeth can grow to dangerous lengths without regular gnawing.

"I have talked to several people who live near the creek, and they have been thrilled to have the beaver in the neighborhood," she says. "I am very happy with the beaver. ... He has to gnaw. He can't help it."

Environmentalist Marisa Calisti, who works for the city, has seen signs of the beavers and their habits. Standing near the Spa Creek dam, which is at least 4 feet tall and sturdy enough to support a person, she says, "They certainly seem to know what they are doing."

Still, several residents who live along the creek and its headwaters worry about the safety of large trees near their houses. Not far from the home of Dan and Ona Truax, the trunks of several white oaks have been damaged recently. At the base of each tree, large sections of dull brown bark have been chewed, revealing the golden-hued core.

"I don't know how tall that tree is but it must be at least 100 feet," says Dan Truax, 67, pointing to one of the oaks. "If that thing falls, it could very easily hit our house."

Bryan King, a wildlife manager with the state Department of Natural Resources, says the beavers probably weren't trying to topple the tall oaks but were just trying to grind down their large incisors.

"If they don't have something to gnaw on like that, their teeth would rotate back through their palate and puncture the brain," says King, adding that a beaver's incisors continue to grow throughout its life.

To dissuade the beavers from attacking large or ornamental trees, King recommends encircling trees with chicken wire. That's what Annapolis crews did at the Truax property.

Spa Creek isn't the only place in Annapolis where beavers have been sighted recently.

At the city's Waterworks Park, a half-dozen beavers have set up house in a mud-and-stick lodge near a storm drain. Recently, to stop them from blocking a pipe, workers at the nearby water treatment plant had to install a "beaver-baffler," a device that makes it impossible for beavers to pinpoint the source of rushing water. It is a beaver's natural instinct to seek out rushing water and block it.

"Now they don't sense the movement of the water so they don't dam [the storm pipe] up," says Tom Crabtree, superintendent of the Annapolis Water Plant. Crabtree, who lives in a house on site, says he and his German shepherd, Jake, spot the beavers at dawn or dusk. The beavers like to taunt Jake, who often chases them to the water's edge.

Although several local trappers have asked Crabtree for permission to catch and kill the beavers for their luxurious pelts, Crabtree has protected them. "I don't think we need a lot of beaver coats out there, even though it is awfully cold," he says.

Moyer, who in March prohibited city staffers from setting out traps to stem a black ant invasion, says she also is opposed to doing away with the beavers, even though they may complicate her goal of protecting Annapolis' trees.

Says Moyer: "I think people are happy to have some wildlife in the neighborhood."

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