You may be familiar with the saying “busy as a beaver,” and beavers can be pretty busy in southeast Kansas. If you spend time around ponds and creeks you may have seen signs indicating that beavers have been busily working to build their dams, dens, and food caches. Other signs that beavers have been at work in the area include; freshly cut trees, peeled branches, and the odor of a beaver’s scent mound.
At one time beavers were the most sought-after natural resource in North America, being highly sought after in the 1700s and 1800s for their dense fur that was commonly used to make felt hats. Because of that popularity, by the late 1800s the beaver population in North America was very low. Through conservation efforts over the years the beaver population has recovered and is to the point of overabundance in some areas. Today beavers can be found on Kansas streams that have a year around water supply.
Beavers are the largest rodent in North America, commonly weighing 40 to 60 pounds, and are easily identified by their flat, leathery tail and large webbed hind feet. Features that make them a rodent that is the most fitted for life in the water, with feet that are suited for swimming and ears and nose that close when they are underwater. The beaver’s dense fur, ranging in color from tan to chocolate brown, also traps air which keeps the water off their skin and provides insulation from the frigid cold water during the winter. In Kansas, beavers most commonly build their dens where there are steep banks, building a den in the side of a river bank or pond dam. Beavers very seldom venture far from the water and the protection of their den. Along with building a den, beavers also build a food cache. The food cache is made out of sticks and branches that beavers collect in the fall and store under the water for use during the winter. Food caches are a beaver’s only source of food during the winter once the water’s surface has iced over, and the den is the beaver’s air source during this time.
Beavers are herbivores and consume a diet of different plants, grasses, forbs, and, on occasion, agricultural crops. However, their preference for tree bark is what they are most associated with, both positively and negatively. Beavers will use a variety of trees, but in Kansas immature willows and cottonwoods are what they prefer. Commonly associated with felling trees, this allows beavers to eat the more nutritious branches in the canopy of trees. In addition to access to more nutritious food, felling trees also provide beavers with material to build their dam and food cache.
In Kansas, bobcats and coyotes are the only predators that will prey on adult beavers. Because of this, the beaver population can become over abundant at times. Beavers are one of the few vertebrate animals that can alter the environment to fit their needs. While beavers and the dams they build can benefit the land and conservation efforts, the dams can have negative impacts on the environment around them. Some of those include, flooded crop fields and roads. Flooding from a beaver dam can result in the flooding of large areas where only shallow and slow-moving water existed before. While some plants and animals are able to adapt to pond life and wetlands, depending on the location and size, beaver ponds can cause significant damage to human interests. The damages from flooding caused by beaver-dams can include removing pastures and crop land from production and drowning stands of trees. Beaver dens can also potentially decrease the stability of the banks of streams and ponds and increase the chance of these banks collapsing under the weight of vehicles and farm equipment.
Damaged caused by beavers can be managed by installing a beaver pond leveler, fencing off valuable trees and crops, and removing the local beaver population and preventing recolonization. Even though beavers and their dams have the potential to cause damage it is also possible to live with beavers if preventative measures are put in place to prevent beavers from damaging valuable resources. The Kansas Department of Wildlife notes the best way to prevent damage from beavers is through sustained population control and that pond owners should not wait until beavers become overabundant, because, at that point, damage has already been done. Keeping the beaver population under control not only benefits the land owner, but it benefits the remaining beaver as well.
For more information, contact Adaven Scronce, Diversified Agriculture and Natural Resource agent, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 620-331-2690.