Lake Elmo beavers: Cute, yes, but something of a nuisance

Three or four beavers—one or two adults and two kits—have built themselves a home on the shores of Lake Elmo in the Heights.

Their bank den is on the west side of the 64-acre reservoir, near the boat launch and right alongside a culvert that feeds the lake with water from the Billings Bench Water Association canal. A bank den is similar to a lodge but incorporates the bank surface into the structure.

Only three beavers at a time have been spotted so far, but Dave Pauli, with the Humane Society of the United States, said beavers mate for life, so there is most likely another adult in the den.

Terri Walters, who manages Lake Elmo State Park, of which the reservoir is part, for the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the beavers apparently migrated to Lake Elmo from the nearby irrigation canal sometime this fall.

The beavers have already felled two small cottonwood trees, a willow and a Russian olive, and they have been working their way through a willow stump thick with dozens of shoots, including a few large ones. They have stacked the top of their lodge with branches, which they will feed on throughout the winter.

Walters said she had to wrap 10 other trees with wire so they beavers wouldn’t gnaw on them.

Tree

John Warner

A beaver waddles past a gnawed-on tree.

“If they’d just eat Russian olives”—an invasive species that tends to crowd out other species of trees—“I’d have been good with that,” she said.

She hopes they have enough food for the winter and that they leave in the spring.

“I’m hoping that they’ll relocate on their own when the canal opens up again,” she said. The canal is dry in the winter and won’t carry water again next spring, during irrigation season.

“They’re such wonderful animals,” Walters said. “They’re just a challenge right now.”

She has gotten some advice from Pauli, who offered to live-trap and relocate the beavers, but Walters said she was told FWP now frowns on that practice, to avoid liability if the beavers cause damage elsewhere.

Pauli said that shouldn’t be a problem, since he has often found places willing to take them, including, in recent years, the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation and a wildlife rehabilitation center.

It might be possible to “encourage” the beavers to leave next spring, Pauli said, but his fear is that they would try to live in the BBWA canal.

“The ditch riders pretty much have carte blanche to take them out,” he said.

Pauli also said he’d like to work with FWP on a plan that would allow the beavers to stay at the lake. The adults could be spayed and neutered, and the kits could be as well if they stayed on. Lake Elmo State Park is often visited by groups of schoolchildren, Pauli said, so it would be good learning experience to have a family of beavers living where they are so easily accessible.

“It’s a pretty cool situation,” he said.

Photographer John Warner has been taking pictures of the beavers this fall. Make sure you look at the gallery of his photos attached to the top photograph. And for more of his photos, visit johnwarnerphoto.com.

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