What to Do After the Beaver Comes

Bill Devlin
Adams County Master Gardener

Not everybody in Adams County has to deal with the aftermath of a beaver visit. Most people do not live on a lake or stream. On the other hand, quite a few people do, given Tom’s Creek, Codorus Creek, Marsh Creek, Conewago Creek, Rock Creek, Lake Heritage, Lake Kay, Lake Carroll, and Lake May all prime natural resources in the County. Creeks and lakes are the natural habitat of the beaver, whose prime pelts gave the economic motivation for exploration of northern North America by the French fur traders in the 16th and 17th centuries. Those days are gone but the beaver as well as his neighbor the white tailed deer have made a significant comeback.

My first direct experience with a beaver on Lake Kay occurred about 10 years ago. He (or she) started making a meal of my neighbor’s young succulent trees as they are wont to do. One frustrated neighbor immediately dug the stump and the roots from the ground then put wire around all his surviving trees. My next door neighbor lost a tree when she was out of town; I surrounded the remaining trees with chicken wire and kept them at bay until her return. Chicken wire is inexpensive, readily available and easy to work. That is the positive view. The negative view is that it doesn’t last. As corrosion sets in, the wire sort of collapses into a thin ring at the base of the tree, thus exposing the succulent bark to further trepidations. Those beaver were removed legend has it, and there was peace in the valley for several years.

A few months ago I saw a brown wide-headed creature swimming in Lake Kay. I frequently see muskrats swimming in the Lake but this head was far too broad for a muskrat. I thought to myself, that’s a beaver. I had better replace the chicken wire that I had placed around the 3 pecan trees that the borough had planted in Lake Kay Park several years ago. The trees were now about 2" in diameter and bearing pecans. Truthfully, there were only 3 pecans but I will take all I can get.

Some preach that procrastination is a sin, and in my case it was. About a week after that thought I got around to taking not chicken wire, but ½" hardware cloth to the park to renew the trees protection. Alas, I was too late. Of the three trees, one was a beauty having bore the 3 pecans last year, one was so-so and one had died to be replaced by a stratified and started pecan growing in a tree tube shelter. Guess which one the beaver had struck!! Of course if you guessed the best one you win the prize! If you do an internet search on Bill Devlin Pecans you will come to my article on growing pecans in South Central Pennsylvania.

In my 70 years of growing pecans and clearing undesirable trees that were crowding my favored pecans, I have developed a great respect for the ability of a tap rooted tree to survive a simple beheading. The root system is at least as extensive as the above ground system, reaching out to the ‘drip line’; the area covered by the leaf canopy, and has a vast reservoir of energy to restore a damaged or removed top. It is really, really, really hard to kill a tap root tree. On my farm I have resorted to using a large diesel tractor to literally yank them out of the ground, roots and all (up to 4" trees) as hardly anything else works. Expensive poisons will occasionally work but are somewhat dangerous to work with. I have on occasion had a backhoe available for other work like building creek crossings with culverts, and diverted the backhoe to removing trees like locust as nothing else, not even poison works.

With this in mind, I undertook a mission to save the tree. Since the cut was about a foot above the ground, and the Pawnee variety graft was about 3" above the ground, the original planting can be restored.

The vast reservoir of energy that I previously referred to kicked into action and about a dozen buds appeared on the stump of the tree, see photo. In this photo I have already for the first time removed all but one set of buds. This process of removing extraneous buds may need to be repeated at intervals. The process forces the root system energy into feeding the main leader that will become the renewed tree. I believe that in 2010 the tree will be seen as normal, except to an expert eye.

Summarizing What to Do After the Beaver Comes:

Do NOT Panic and destroy the stump.

  • Procure some ½" Hardware Cloth. It’s now available in small quantities at hardware stores.
  • Protect the stump.
  • When sprouts develop on the stump remove all but the most promising one near the top but not too close to the cut.
  • Do monthly maintenance of removing all sprouts, including ones coming out of the ground and replacing the hardware cloth after each sprout removal cycle.
  • In the fall fertilize with 10-10-10, one pound per inch of trunk diameter spread over the area previously covered by the canopy.
  • Maintain the hardware cloth indefinitely. The Beaver or their progeny may be back.
  • Read other articles about controlling garden pests

Read other articles By Bill Devlin