Living in a rural location inevitably means having a relationship with Mother Nature. And sometimes that relationship gets complicated. Bay Lake residents have been immersed, literally, in just how complicated it can be to live side by side with beavers.
Beavers have lived in the area for many years. Bud Ulsh, who was born in 1933 and has lived nearby his whole life, remembers hiking around Bay Lake and seeing evidence of beavers at least 20 years ago. Bruce Wagner, a division manager with Pierce County Planning and Public Works Maintenance and Operations, said that beavers began to cause significant problems at Bay Lake in 2011. That year the county placed a device known as a beaver deceiver to prevent beavers from blocking the culvert under Delano Road that allows outflow to Mayo Cove to prevent the road from flooding.
“Now it’s flooding again. Water is lapping at my front door.”
Resident Teresa Ives, who has lived on the lake for 15 years, said the device just seemed to encourage the beavers to build dams around it. The north end of the lake was once a narrow 20 feet across and now is close to 200 feet.
A number of residents reported that the lake level has risen at least two and a half feet in the last few years. Docks that were above water are now submerged. Ives estimated that she has lost about an acre of her 7-acre property to rising water levels, and access to her floating dock was under water in mid-May.
Claude Lee bought 3.5 acres in 1967 and ran a fishing camp there until 1995. He raised the height of his dock by a foot and hoped he could live with the changes but as of this spring, he said, “Now it’s flooding again. Water is lapping at my front door.”
Richard Miller has lived on Bay Lake since 2007. When he planned his dock, he kayaked around the lake to see what others had done. He built a floating structure with a stationary dock for access that was higher than any others on the lake. That dock, already replaced once, was under water in May.
Miller said there used to be some variation in the water level from summer to winter, with about 10 feet of beach in the summer. “I built stairs to get to the beach,” he said, “but now the beach is gone and the water meets the stairs.” He calculated the size of the lake at about 128 acres. Every foot of additional depth adds 400,000 gallons of water to the volume of the lake. “That’s at least one and a half million gallons more water now than a few years ago.”
Ives said, “You have to live with nature.” She said that when she built her home, she intentionally built in a spot much higher on the property than required by Pierce County and noted she’d be on the verge of losing her home if she had built near the shore.
Reactions to the effects of the beavers have varied. Lee, whose house was most at risk, said, “Beaver need to be classified as nuisance animals. If they can hire a helicopter to shoot a wolf for killing cattle, they should help us get rid of the beavers. I am on the verge of losing my home.”
“The division has been working on beaver issues in the vicinity of Bay Lake for many years,” Wagner said. His division is responsible for keeping Delano Road from flooding and focuses on keeping the culvert open. “Initiative 713 was passed in 2000 and bans the use of body-gripping traps to catch animals. This greatly reduced the number of beavers being trapped, causing a significant increase in the population and prompting flooding associated with beaver activities.”
The county can provide technical assistance for the homeowners, primarily advice about how to get hydraulic project approval (notching dams in particular, but also allowing for the use of pipes to divert water around dams to keep the water levels stable) and information about trappers who are licensed to trap and kill beavers. Beavers are not relocated as they may either become a nuisance again or not survive in the new location.
“Beaver need to be classified as nuisance animals.”
According to Matt Blankenship, a wildlife conflict specialist with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, trying to eliminate beavers is not likely to end the problem. If the habitat is desirable, a new family will move in. The beavers live in family units of about eight and are territorial. As kits mature, they move to establish their own homes. If some beavers are removed the fertility rate of the parent beavers will increase to allow the family to again reach its stable size, according to the Beavers: Wetlands and Wildlife website (www.beaversww.org).
Multiple sources note that beavers are second only to humans in their ability to change landscape. They create wetlands.
Although dams at the north end of Bay Lake have caused some trouble, those on the north side of Delano Road in the outlet that flows to Mayo Cove have been the most problematic. They are on private property, and because the impact of the rising water has affected homes without flooding the road, it took neighbors working together to address the recent crisis.
Although the property owners declined to talk to KP News, they did work with Claude Lee. Lee reported that at the end of May they had received hydraulic project approval, had cleared a path to the stream, and that he and a team of seven helpers notched ten dams on the north side of Delano Road and one on the south side. The lake water level dropped by a foot and a half within the day.
They may need to repeat the procedure, but for now Lee is breathing a sigh of relief. “The water was four inches from my front door,” he said. “This made a big difference.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misidentified Matt Blankenship as an employee of the Department of Natural Resources. He is in fact a wildlife conflict specialist with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. This article has been corrected accordingly.
The North American beaver, the continent’s largest rodent, lives throughout the U.S. and Canada. Trapping beaver for its lustrous fir nearly led to its extinction by the 1930s but thanks to conservation measures populations are now at relatively healthy levels.
Beavers are very territorial and live in family units of eight to 12 with a parental pair, kits and yearlings. Rarely 2-year olds will stay to help raise the family, especially if something happens to the parents or there is a shortage of food or the territory is crowded. They may live for up to 24 years and continue to grow throughout their lives, sometimes reaching as much as 55 pounds.
They eat leaves, twigs and the bark of most trees. Beavers prefer to dam streams in shallow valleys where the flooded areas become productive wetlands. The dams create ponds where they can construct a lodge to store food and protect themselves from predators. Hawks, owls and otters prey on kits. Adults have fewer predators, but bears, wolves, dogs and coyotes are a threat.
The beaver’s ability to change the landscape is second only to that of humans.
When beavers dam a stream, they set in motion a form of succession. The resulting backwater floods lowlands near the creek. Trees soon die, creating an opening in the forest canopy. Water-associated plants and shrubs quickly invade the pond and shoreline, creating favorable habitat for waterfowl, moose, blackbirds, amphibians, fish, insects, muskrats, wading birds, warblers, marsh hawks and a score of other animals. After several years the water becomes shallow, filling in with silt and plant debris.
Stimulated by the nutrient-rich mud, grasses, sedges and shrubs begin to choke the water with their accumulating debris. The ground begins to firm as more silt is trapped.
As years pass, the trees near the lodge are cut down by the beavers for use as food and shelter. The beavers must move on and find a new spot to support themselves. Without the beavers to maintain it, the old dam collapses, draining the pond. The area becomes meadow, supporting more grasses and flowering plants. Trees begin to re-invade the drier ground and over centuries the meadow reverts to forest.
For more information, go to www.nps.gov/glac/learn/education/beaver-natural-history-narrative