Beaver Wars

Beavers have a reputation for hard work but not high intelligence. Their big scaly tails, perpetually wet fur and oversized buck teeth scream, “Awkward.” I once watched one trying to raise the level of a huge cement dam one stick at a time. Risking a tumble to his death over the spill way, he would  swim with a stick in his teeth, release it to be washed over the dam edge and then swim back for another sacrifice. That was an Oregon beaver, not one born on the glacial moraine. Our local boys must be more intelligent. They outsmarted the U.S. Forest Service. I have the wet boots to prove it.

The soaking happened today, as Aki and wound our way through glacier moraine and troll woods to avoid an increasing number of beaver flooded trails. The dog showed little enthusiasm for the venture. I blamed the pounding rain and promised her that we will soon be protected from the worst of it by a thick forest canopy. She still hesitated then took up station at my heals as she does when smelling danger. A few minutes later she shot ahead. The rain continued so a strange smell or one given off by a bear must have caused her timid behavior.

We emerged from the woods onto Crystal Lake. Across the lake a trail runner and his dog forded 100 feet of flooded trail. His trainers sent waist high splashes with steps that submerged his legs to mid-calf. Aki would have to swim it and I am tired of wet boots so we planned another route home. This took us to ground zero of the beaver vs. Forest Service war  At the head of Crystal Lake last spring the beavers built a massive dam that turned the area around the lake into a water park. With the Forest Service slow to react, vigilante hikers started dismantling the dam, stick by stick. This concerned the Feds, in part because the dam kept silver salmon out of Crystal Lake where State Fish and Game had just planted a bunch of land locked king salmon. Both sets of biologists warned that the two specifies could not safely share the same water.  Last Fall the Forest Service thought they fixed the problem by running a water pipe under the dam designed to reduced the lake water level without allowing a silver salmon invasion.

With the pipe in place the lake level dropped and the trails dried out and hikers credited the Forest Service with a win. The beavers retreated to their winter dens and planned next summer’s campaign.

This summer, rather than blocking the Forest Service pipe, the beavers built a new higher dam 100 feet down the outlet stream from the old dam. Water backed up from their new edifice over the top of the old dam and onto the surrounding trails. My feet and Aki’s undercarriage are soaked from our efforts to reach a dry trail on the other side of the flooded area.

What next? Will the Forest Service try to undermine the new dam with another pipe? Will the beavers respond with another dam further down stream?  Will my boots ever dry out?

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