Beaver

 

The American Beaver (Castor canadensis) is often called “nature’s engineer” because of its practice of building dams in streams and rivers. Nearly wiped out in much of their historic range by early fur trappers, beavers have been restored to many Oregon waters because of improved management, awareness of their benefits, and less demand for their fur. In recognition of its significance in Oregon history, the beaver was made the state symbol and placed on the reverse side of the Oregon state flag; it also became the mascot and nickname of Oregon State University (established in 1856).

Many of the first non-Natives in Oregon were fur trappers. Trapping was not regulated, and the beaver population declined as demand for high quality fur increased. By 1893, the number of beavers was so low that the Oregon legislature closed Baker and Malheur Counties to beaver trapping. This was followed by a statewide closure from 1899 to 1918, when beaver trapping was permitted in Benton and Marion Counties.

In 1923, beaver trapping was reopened statewide from November through February, except in national forests and in five southwest counties. The legislature again closed most of the state to beaver trapping in 1931, and the few excepted counties were included in the ban the next year.

In 1937, beaver management was directed to the State Game Commission (now the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife), which has regulated beaver trapping since then. Today, beaver trapping is open statewide for several months with specific area exceptions in some counties. Beaver management requires balancing the benefits that dams and ponds provide to fish, wildlife, water quality, and agriculture with the damage beavers can do to timber, crops, amenities, and culverts.

Beavers, North America’s largest rodent, can weigh as much as sixty-five pounds and measure nearly four feet in length. With a paddle-shaped tail, webbed hind feet, valves that close their ears and nose while diving, and a rich oil glad that waterproofs their fur, the animals are ideally suited for an aquatic environment. Mostly nocturnal, beavers eat a variety of vegetation and in winter depend on woody plants for most of their food, including hammer willows, vine and big leaf maples, alder, and cottonwood.

Beavers use their sharp incisor teeth to cut trees and, in smaller streams, build dams that create a deep-water pond where they are protected from predators and have access to their food supply. They also create entrances to dens built underground or lodges constructed of branches and logs in the water or on shore. In larger streams and rivers, beavers establish dens in stream banks. As part of a beaver family, known as a colony, mated adults can live together for life. Litters of up to eight kits, born in late spring, typically live in the colony for two years before searching for their own mates.

Beaver dams back water up and slow it down, creating ponds where adult fish can rest and juvenile salmon, steelhead, and trout can hide from predators and strong winter currents. The ponds catch fallen leaves where aquatic insects breed and become food for fish, amphibians, birds, and bats. Ponds also provide habitat for Oregon’s native mink, river otter, muskrats, turtles, frogs, and salamanders. The dams also create wetlands that help control flooding and improve water quality by filtering sediment, trapping silt, and removing toxic chemicals. At the same time, beaver dams can create problems for landowners, timber companies, and farmers by causing downstream flooding and property damage and compromising the integrity of septic systems, roads, and buildings.

In 2007, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife formed the Beaver Work Group to improve communication and information on the competing benefits and costs of beaver management in the state. Biologists and researchers from state and federal agencies and tribal governments and representatives from trapping and conservation organizations, academia, landowners, and others are now working to improve understanding of beaver ecology and management.

Author


Further Reading

Oregon Department of Wildlife: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/beaver.asp

U.S. Federal Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/ToolsForLandowners/RiverScience/Beaver.asp 

"Oregon Furbearer Trapping and Hunting Regulations." Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, July 1, 2016 -- June 30, 2018. http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/hunting/small_game/regulations/docs/Furbearer_Regulations.pdf 

 


Related Articles

Fur Trade in Oregon Country

The fur trade was the earliest and longest-enduring economic enterprise that colonizers, imperialists, and nationalists pursued in North America. It significantly shaped North American history, especially from 1790 until 1840, when the trade played a dramatic and critical role in the Oregon Country, which included present-day Oregon and Washington and portions ...

Fort Vancouver, 1854
Hudson's Bay Company

Although a late arrival to the Oregon Country fur trade, for nearly two decades in the early nineteenth century the British Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) dominated the region’s social, economic, and political life while ensuring profit to its shareholders. This quest for profit—achieved through the pioneering extraction of the Pacific ...

Flag being presented to Postmaster General, c. 1925, to hang in Washington, D.C.
Oregon State Flag

Oregon is the only state in the country whose flag has a different image on each side. It was also among the last states to adopt a flag, only doing so in 1925 after Portland’s postmaster, J.M. Jones, asked for a flag to present to the U.S. Post ...

Oregon State symbols

Oregon has a number of officially designated symbols, ranging from those that are essential to the state government, such as the seal and flag, to some that some may consider superfluous, including the state dance and gemstone. Legislators and proponents of state symbols have argued that there is an economic ...

Sea Otter

America’s introduction to the lucrative Pacific Northwest Coast fur trade occurred on August 10, 1788, when the sloop Lady Washington, under Captain Robert Gray, traded with local people for sea otter skins just north of Yaquina Bay. Four days later, Gray and his eleven-man crew entered Tillamook Bay flying the ...

Related Historical Records


This entry was last updated on Aug. 10, 2018