Thursday, November 15, 2007

They're Baaaaaack!

Several years ago, beavers (Castor canadensis) returned to the Francis Beidler Forest portion of Four Holes Swamp after being absent (due to trapping) for more than 100 years. The beaver is second only to humans in its ability to manipulate and alter its environment. Additionally, the beaver's feeding activity often girdles trees as it eats the cambium layer, which is the living tissue that connects the tree's leaves to its roots. Girdling the tree breaks that connection and prevents the tree from manufacturing and storing food, which leads to the tree's death. Naturally, the managers of Beidler Forest were concerned about how dead and dying trees along the boardwalk might affect a visitor's experience.

The issue of the beaver was discussed and it was decided that the human managers of the forest would do nothing as is usually the approach in the virgin, old-growth swamp. We might not like the result of the beaver's activity, but it was once part of this ecosystem and our mission statement clearly states that we are conserving natural ecosystems for birds AND OTHER WILDLIFE. That was in February 2005. In March of that year, another manager at the swamp overrode our decision and made a meal of the industrious beaver. Although not on the payroll, some would like to thank Mr./Ms. Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) for his/her service to the community.

But wait...just as the cool weather has sent the alligators into their winter inactivity, at least one beaver is baaaaack! The master naturalist group spotted the beaver (center of image) in Goodson Lake as it was swimming and generally disrepectfully smacking its tail in the face of the cool and lethargic alligator. We're predicting that, come spring, the alligator will invite his 40+-pound friend to dinner.

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