I live in central Oklahoma on 40 acres of land that belongs to my inlaws. Nobody has loved this land since before World War II, although there's been constant activity in the form of a grazing lease and a couple of ancient but still producing oil wells.
I've also slowly come to realize just how much of the poor condition of this land can be attributed to half a century of cattle grazing by a lessee with no interest at all in soil conservation. The land is crisscrossed by deep notched ravines with bottoms scoured clean, all of which are fed by an endless series of erosion channels leading down from the former pasture. These ravines have isolated pools of water in them year round, but are flowing streams only seasonally (and not at all in at least one drought year since I've been here.) The sad thing is, I'm told they were all year-round creeks as recently as the 1970s, in shallow beds that were closer to four feet deep than the current 20+ feet.
There's only one willow tree on the whole property, which I now plan to make the ancestor of an entire battalion of willows in the service of bank stabilization and erosion control. (My fantasy is that if I plant enough willows from cuttings, maybe some day the beaver will come back, build dams, and turn my dead ravines into beautiful pools. There's beaver sign on this land -- cut stumps -- but none of it's newer than ten years old.)
Since I wrote that I haven't made any progress propagating willows, but I have explored the difficult-to-access ravine areas more thoroughly. A lot of the forest near the ravine is mature, but there are more areas than I realized with plenty of smaller trees and saplings.
Late last summer I came upon one beaver stump near the property that was fresh enough that the chips were still visible by in on the ground. But the chips and the cut were weathered and grey, several months old at least.
This spring we've had a lot of rain and the ravines have been in flood several times. When the water was high I observed what looked from a distance like a freshly-cut Osage Orange sapling on the far bank, chewed down, cut up, and bark-stripped in classic beaver fashion. But I was on the wrong side of the water to get a close look, and it would have been a long wet hike to confirm, so I didn't.
Then today I was on county road that crosses the stream that's in our ravine. The place where the road crosses is about 50 feet upstream from our property boundary, and it's a culverted ford where the road surface serves as a shallow spillway when the water level is up, as it has been lately. Right in the middle of the road, left by the steam water, I found this fresh-cut beaver food stick:
You have no idea how happy this makes me! Confirmed beaver in our stream, right now this week. I don't know what a happy-beaver dance would look like (perhaps some sort of manic jig?) but if I knew, I would have been dancing right there in the road.
We only have one neighbor in physical position to notice or be offended by beaver in our portion of the watershed. He is a shooty type, but I think he could be persuaded to leave beaver alone if they settled on our property, and he's got no structures or grassland that would be threatened, although he might have some at-risk scrub forest trees. If nothing else, he won't trespass without permission.
Reality intrudes long enough to tell me that this is the time of year when young beaver travel in search of habitat, and our ravines and stream are not great beaver habitat. The forage is far from ideal, dam sites are challenging, and the stream itself is mostly in deeply eroded notch banks (some of which might well be suitable for a bank den, so there's that.) We have lots of coyotes around, there are bobcats, and our dogs range widely looking for stuff to kill. So, odds are, this particular beaver is just a visitor. However, having solid confirmation that our watershed is still connected to a beaver population somewhere near enough that the visit could happen? Really good news that has made my day.
I'm now inspired to put a lot more work into beaver habitat enhancement. The timber that would be at risk to a resident beaver population is not a group of trees we were realistically going to use or harvest anyway, and the benefits (wildlife! waterfowl! free ponds! landscape restoration!) vastly outweigh the value of the trees the beaver would eat. Honestly speaking with the limited resources available to us it's radically unlikely that the damage to this land from unmanaged/careless cattle grazing will ever be repaired in any other way. A series of beaver dams that slow runoff, capture sediment, bring the streams back up closer to ground level, and retain water on the property sufficient to support a virtuous circle of additional riparian revegetation? It's really just a dream, but this one little fresh stick in my hand today was the proof I needed that it's not an impossible dream. So I'm pretty stoked.
I don't know if you saw my thread about a beaver habitat enhancement project that I helped out with last year. It was really cool that university professors, forest rangers and cattlemen can get together to help restore he forest. This project is on my friend Jay's 1200 acre forest grazing allotment where he runs 450 head of cattle in a rotational grazing regimen.
Let me know if you have any questions about the project or if you would like to get something like this going, Dr. Wheaton is a friend and he is still looking for more opportunities to enhance beaver habitat all across the west.
Unfortunately Oklahoma is still behind the times when it comes to projects like this. They still maintain a system of special permits for licensed beaver eradicators here, and there's no ready source of captured beavers or regulatory structure that would make it possible to legally introduce them onto our land.
I do, however, have an interest in putting in some of those checkdam structures to make the habitat a bit more appealing. If I can round up the labor and materials (not gonna be this year) I hope to do some of that.
Building low check dams will also give you places to plant those willow sticks, which will grow into trees just from being suck into the ground.
The more of those you can get growing, the more inviting the place will be for beaver.
Poplar and other trees will also be great to get going, they will not only help with soil retention but they will also be good sources of food for beaver.
Good luck with this project, it is a noble cause that will indeed end up with the land restored.
Beaver dams hold back silt and thus eventually fill in with soil that becomes very rich in nutrients.
Fur bombs! Idaho wildlife agency finds historic footage of parachuting beavers
BOISE, Idaho — More than half a century after a group of beavers parachuted into the Idaho backcountry, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has uncovered film footage of the quirky wildlife management moment.
In the 1940s the department was trying to deal with an overpopulation of beavers in some regions when wildlife managers settled on a novel idea. They captured beavers and other fur-bearing rodents, packed them into special travel boxes, attached parachutes and dropped them from a plane into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Most centers would be happy to evaluate site and offer suggestions as to how to better provide appropriate habitat for their releaseables, be it songbirds, mammals (beaver for pond creation; raccoons for rodent control; skunks and possums for insect control; deer for brush control etc.), birds of prey (Owls, Hawks etc. for rodent control) etc.
Wildlife friendly release sites are always in high demand at any rehab center. Assuming your site is appropriate, you would have a ready supply of wildlife to repopulate your properties.
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