Environment

Merced’s beavers - nuisance or benefit?

Merced's urban beavers concern residents

A Merced resident shares some of her concerns Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, about beavers who build dams and gnaw trees on creeks
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A Merced resident shares some of her concerns Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, about beavers who build dams and gnaw trees on creeks

Many travelers of the bike paths that run along Merced’s creeks may not be aware of the vibrant ecosystem at their feet, but experts say it’s there.

Aaron Pulver, 54, of Merced said he mostly never thought about the critters that call Black Rascal Creek home until the day he noticed what was clearly a tree that had been gnawed at by beavers. Now, to hear him explain it, he’s got “beaver fever.”

Pulver said he’s never actually seen any beavers in the creek – the mostly nocturnal rodents steer clear of humans during the day. But, now that he’s aware of their presence, he can’t help but see the teeth marks on trees and the dams that stop water from rushing through the creek.

“I’m worried about the flooding,” he said.

The wet weather coming to the region only intensifies his anxiety. His home in the Loughborough neighborhood isn’t too far from the creek.

I’m more concerned with the aesthetics of the creek and the health of the trees.

Cynthia Pulver, 55, of Merced, on trees fell by beavers

Cynthia Pulver, his sister, said she’s worried about loss of trees on the bank. One larger tree, which may have been growing for a couple of decades, fell sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning. The tree had clearly been chewed up by one or more beavers.

“I’m more concerned with the aesthetics of the creek and the health of the trees,” the 55-year-old said.

The industrious rodents are after cambium, the plant material inside a tree beneath the outer bark, according to Cristen Langner, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Beavers are known to drag a stump and store it in their dens for when they get hungry. They typically live in a mound above the water on their dam, which has an entrance under the water.

Langner said ranchers often see the animals as a nuisance because they obstruct the water flows, but beavers serve a number of beneficial purposes. For instance, they are critical for maintaining wild meadows, she said, because they clear out trees that would otherwise choke out the wild plants.

“It’s amazing that these guys can cut down these big ol’ trees and drag them around like nothing,” she said. “They’re crucial to an ecosystem where the rest of the system is allowed to function as well.”

Any natural creek or river is likely to have beavers, she said. It comes with the territory. A few other beaver dams also in Merced obstruct the water that winds through Fahrens Creek on the northern end of town.

Beavers are known to drag a stump and store it in their dens for when they get hungry. They typically live in a mound above the water on their dam, which has an entrance under the water.

The dams are also habitats for other wildlife. In fact, a couple of scientists at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Sonoma County started a campaign called Bring Back the Beaver.

The campaign argues that beavers are a “keystone species” that not only helps other animals, but are beneficial to a thirsty California. Their dams help water to seep into underground aquifers, according to beaver advocates.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife allows for cities or landowners to apply for permits to have beavers trapped and relocated or even killed if the varmints are shown to be a nuisance.

Killing the beavers is not on the list of solutions in Merced, according to interim City Manager John Bramble. The city has no purview over the waterway, he said, but does maintain the banks.

Bramble said dealing with beavers is a balancing act, because they can be a nuisance or a benefit to the area.

It’s amazing that these guys can cut down these big ol’ trees and drag them around like nothing. They’re crucial to an ecosystem where the rest of the system is allowed to function as well.

Cristen Langner, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife

Creeks that run through the city are maintained by Merced Streams, a combined effort from the city, Merced County and Merced Irrigation District.

The waterway is maintained by MID, which occasionally removes dams they see as troublesome after getting an approval from wildlife regulators, according to Mike Jensen, the district’s spokesman.

He said residents should rest easy. “This is a common occurrence in this area and our staff is properly trained in how to address beaver dams,” he said.

Anyone concerned with a beaver dam or anything else in the waterway can report it to MID at 209-722-5761.

Concerns about trees or other vegetation should go to Merced Public Works at 209-385-6800.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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