Beavers Once Considered Symbol
Inside the Outdoors, January 23
, 2015

When one thinks of a rodent, probably a mouse or a rat comes to mind. Even a squirrel may fall into third place. But, who would have ever known beavers would fall under that classification?

According to Tom Hardisky, wildlife biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, in an article written in April, 2011, titled Beaver Management in Pennsylvania, 2010 – 2019, “The beaver is the largest rodent in North America with adults averaging 14 – 29 kg (30 – 65 lbs.). Several beavers in excess of 32 kg (70 lbs.) have been taken in Pennsylvania.”

Prior to the 1900’s, beavers were considered endangered across North America. Once considered non-existent across the Commonwealth, they now exist in all but 24 counties. “So important was the pursuit of the beaver as an influence in westward movement of the American frontier that it is sometimes suggested that this furbearer would be a more appropriate symbol of the United States than the bald eagle,” so stated the Encyclopedia Americana 12:12378, 1969 edition. By the pulling together of conservation-minded individuals and state agencies, efforts were made to ensure the growth of animal populations and the beavers made a miraculous return to the continent.

A management program was initiated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission with a mission in mind. “It,” according Hardisky, “is to establish stable beaver populations in balance with its habitat for the benefit of wetland wildlife species and humans through proper population monitoring, harvest management, and damage control. The goals of Pennsylvania’s beaver management are to (1) establish sustained beaver populations within suitable habitat, (2) monitor the beaver harvest, (3) minimize beaver damage complaints, (4)increase public awareness and knowledge of the benefits of beavers and their habitat, and (5) provide opportunities to use and experience beavers.”

Along with the mission statement are objectives that coincide with the plan. They are: “improved population and reproductive monitoring, harvest management, habitat assessment, population management on public lands, trapping regulations, outreach, public engagement and youth participation.”

Hardisky stated, “Only through careful planning and sound science will we maintain a healthy balance between beavers and humans, and establish and manage sustained beaver populations, much like the Native Americans did centuries ago.”

One of the unknown features of this animal to many is the fact that “Incisor teeth are colored orange and grow continuously throughout life.” It’s the front part of these teeth that are used to cut trees and peel bark. The rear side of the incisors is softer and wear more easily, creating a beveled chisel-like edge,” Hardisky said.

In describing the physical features of the beaver, Hardisky said, “Beavers are semi-aquatic and possess physical features that make them well adapted to a water environment and to the dark, humid enclosed spaces of their burrow and houses. Out of the water, beavers appear humpbacked and are clumsy walkers. In water, they are torpedo shaped. They propel themselves with large, powerful hind webbed feet.”

The wildlife biologist explained, “Beavers can remain under water for as long as 15 minutes. They have the ability to exchange as much as75 per cent of the air in their lungs, as compared to only 15 per cent for humans, and can tolerate high concentrations of carbon dioxide in their lungs. When held underwater, beavers do not drown from water inhalation into their lungs like most mammals. Carbon dioxide narcosis gradually occurs, but water never enters the lungs,” he stated.

Referencing a 1984 Roberts and Arner food consumption study, it was found that through a stomach analysis that they consumed “42 species of trees, 36 genera of herbaceous plants, four types of woody vines, and many species of grass.”

Concerning their pelts, they ranged in color from blond to nearly black. Because the hairs of the underfur are extremely dense and wavy, it is said to have a “downy softness.” This could be the reason they were so heavily sought.

Hardisky stated that, “In the wild, most beavers do not live more than 10 years, but captive beavers may live to 21 years. “ The main predators of these animals are humans. “Historically, wolves top the predatory roll. Timber wolves are the only predator reported to have any significant impact on beaver populations,” he disclosed. Other enemies include: coyotes, river otters, bobcats, mink, bear and feral dogs.

This brings this writer to the subject of beaver trapping season which began Dec. 26 and ends March 31, 2015. According to Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest, “Trappers may legally take up to 65 beavers with the combined harvest in multiple Wildlife Management Units in a season. When trapping in multiple WMUs, a trapper may set or tend up to 10 traps, up to 20 snares, and not more than a total of 20 devices statewide.”

Beavers’ pelts do not need to be tagged.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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