Beaver Dams: The Good, the Bad, The Reality

By Marcia Woolman For Middleburg Life       

In the past two months, two new beaver dams have sprouted up on local streams south and east of Middleburg in the areas monitored by the Goose Creek Association. Before you start jumping for joy or go to get your gun, better to have a frank conversation about beavers, pro and con.

There are two major issues: one a positive and the other a negative. Most would agree that wetlands are one of the most important ecological land uses we can preserve or create. So in nature, who do we turn to for help in this task of wetland protection and creation? The beaver, of course, which creates wetlands when it builds its dams or huts. It raises the level of the stream it plans to live on and the increased water area becomes home to fish, turtles, frogs, birds and ducks. Native Americans called the beaver “the sacred center” of the land because this species created a rich watery habitat for these other animals.

On the other side, what keeps erosion to a minimum and water within its flood plain, are riparian buffers, planted with native trees and grasses. The purpose of a buffer is to create dense root systems that soak up the rain water before it is able to flood, unabated, into the stream. When beavers arrive, their behavior is counter in most ways to this ideal of good steward of the waterway in that they cut down trees and shrubs to eat and for use building their new homes.

In many cases this is detrimental to the stream, but not always. Often a single tree cut will produce a large number of shoots or new limbs which become new tree trunks over time, thus doubling or tripling the amount of tree growth and leaf surface. Since leaves help reduce carbon from the air and that helps mitigate the effects of global warming, the beaver’s forestry management appears harmful in the short run, but might be beneficial in the long run. That’s why planting riparian buffers on your property might be the best way to be a good steward of your watershed. It will guarantee that both water quality and air quality will be enhanced.

It would be of great interest to the Goose Creek Association to assess how many beaver dams there are in the Goose Creek and its tributaries.(Small creeks that eventually flow into the Goose Creek.) The two new beaver dams mentioned above are new to our monitoring sites, but there surely are others in the watershed. If you know of one please consider calling the Goose Creek Office at 687-3073 and just leave a message of stream name, location between the two nearest roads up and down stream or a GPS reading.

The hope is that upon seeing a beaver dam, you will first enjoy the sight of such an amazing structural feat worked by nature’s original engineers. Then ponder on the good health this helps to bring to the creek and the corresponding danger of removing some very important trees from the riparian buffers.

(Marcia Woolman is a member of the Goose Creek Board.)

Posted on February 4th, 2015 in Featured, News, Stream Monitoring

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