I stopped, holding the dogs leashes taut. Looking into the bushes, I tried to locate where the sound was coming from.
I glanced towards the creek. Then I saw it. A blur of fur and a flat tail that slapped the water, as the creature slithered through the water.
Spending time in the Rocky Mountains, I see more signs the beaver has been there, than spying this large rodent up close. Stubs of aspen trees, whittled into points like so many tips of pencils. Piles of branches, clogging up a stream. Small hollowed out holes in the embankment.
For some reason, I know a lot of people who don’t particularly like beavers. They see their industriousness as a nuisance, disrupting the natural beauty.
But in fact, beavers are more like people than we probably care to admit. And let’s face it, the phrase, “busy as a beaver” is viewed as a compliment. You’re getting things done!
Like people, beavers mate for life and their children live with them during the early years. That is until they finally kick out their teenagers after they’ve worn out their welcome inside their den.
Their incredible building skills help them build multi-level homes with several different areas to groom, store food, sleep and eat. It’s like their own version of a McMansion.
In addition to their hard work, they are very athletic, especially under water. Have you ever gone swimming and gotten water up your nose or in your ears? Not a problem for the beaver, who has valves that automatically shut to keep water out. With transparent eyelids, they have built-in goggles that allow them to see while swimming in local ponds and creeks. Their webbed feet provide natural flippers to power them through the water at five miles per hour. That thick, leathery tail makes a perfect rudder. Finally, oils in their coat help them glide through the water with teh greatest of ease. You could think of them as the Michael Phelps of the mammal world!
Unfortunately for beaver, their thick coats were coveted by trappers, and their population has substantially declined during the last 100 years. Wildlife biologists estimate they occupy only 10% of streamside habitat in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Who cares? We all should, because beavers are considered Keystone Species by biologists, where they create habitat for numerous other birds and wildlife. If the beaver disappears, it will cause a chain reaction that will negatively impact many other living creatures. In fact, beavers are the top species that will change or engineer the environment around them, making them a lot like people.
But Boulder County wants to do something about that.
Researchers from Colorado State University have determine that DeLonde Creek in Caribou Ranch Open Space might be the ideal location to re-introduce beavers in the Front Range foothills. Ideally, the creek has sufficient vegetation nearby for them to cut and build dams, but not too great a water flow that spring runoff would destroy their woody homes.
With luck, residents of Nederland may get to enjoy the slap, slap of the beaver’s tail moving through the creek in their local county park in the near future.