In 2015, I found the perfect location for building The Ranch
. There was a forest on the property, a beautiful view of Mount Rainier, a spacious barn with room for training, a large house that could hold a classroom, and plenty of pasture space for the many animals I hoped to house. I was ecstatic to find a place that seemed to meet my needs so perfectly. When I returned to visit in the summer of 2016, however, a large portion of the pasture was under water. The owner explained that the pasture usually only floods in winter, during the rainy season, but that the lake recedes in the summer, leaving the pasture dry and useable. Sometimes, though, beavers in a nearby wilderness area build a dam that causes the pasture to fill with water in the summer as well. The owner offered me a lower price on the property to compensate for the partially unusable land and he gave me the name of someone who could come trap and remove the beavers. I knew that trapping and removing the beavers was illegal, and probably meant that the beavers would be killed. This was an unacceptable option for me, but I decided to purchase the property anyway and find a way to work with the beavers instead of against them. I look at most wildlife situations as training challenges, and I try to live in harmony with native wildlife whenever possible.
In 2017, my first year on The Ranch, I hoped to have a lake-free summer pasture, but the water remained high even though there had been little rain. I donned a pair of fishing waders and followed the small stream that runs through the back of my property into the wilderness area adjacent to The Ranch. As I waded through the densely wooded area, I saw many beaver-gnawed tree stumps. I knew I was getting close. I came to an intersection where the stream in the wilderness area joined the stream coming from The Ranch, creating a wider stream that flowed off both properties. It was in the combined section of the stream that I found a large beaver dam.
Original Dam Location
Beavers are industrious engineers who build dams to raise the water level around their lodges. I had worked with beavers in the past and know them to be creative problem-solvers. Their dams are frequently destroyed by rapid running water and other animals, but this does not deter them. They simply go back to work and build the dam all over again, sometimes in a new location and sometimes with stronger materials. I wondered if I could use this determination and pattern to my advantage; could I keep them from flooding my property while still granting them the protection they needed? If I could get the beavers to move their dam to the wilderness section of the stream, The Ranch would stay dry and a lake would only form in the wilderness area.
New Dam Location
I deconstructed the dam carefully and moved all the twigs and branches to the area where I hoped the beavers would build a new dam. Within a few days, they rebuilt the dam where I found it originally. I went back and repeated the process. I broke down the dam again and moved the twigs and branches to the new area I proposed. It worked! The waters receded from my property, and there was no more lake. I went back to the wilderness area to investigate, and, much to my delight, the beavers had reconstructed their dam in the new area!
In 2018, as summer approached, the lake did not recede, so I put on my waders and trekked into the wilderness area again. I discovered that the beavers had rebuilt the dam in its old location after the rapid winter waters had destroyed the previous year’s dam. Once again I deconstructed the dam and placed the building materials at the new site, the site the beavers had eventually used the previous year, and the beavers rebuilt the dam in the new site. It only took one deconstruction that summer for the beavers to rebuild the dam in the new location!
Would the beavers learn or would this be a process that I would have to repeat every year? In the summer of 2019, the lake in my pasture receded earlier than normal. Out of curiosity, I decided to go check out the beavers. They were still living in their lodge in the wilderness area and had rebuilt their dam in the new location!
I loved seeing the approximations work and particularly liked not having to remove the beavers from their home.