Education Specialist Karen Maher, left, and Information Assistant Lindsey Edgar, of the U.S. Forest Service, tell Crystal Lake daycamp kids all about beaver lodges.
An adult beaver and one of its yearlings interact with each other at Dredge Lake.
Story last updated at 12/24/2008 - 10:52 am
JUNEAU - Maybe they heard about Santa, or maybe they just got tired of volunteers undoing their work, but it appears the beavers in the Dredge Lakes area have ceased plugging culverts, felling trees and repairing dams.
That's the word from a local group of volunteers that has been working with the Juneau Ranger District to alleviate problems the beavers were causing for fish and recreationists. The beavers obstructed fish passage by blocking culverts, and caused flooding on the area trails with dams.
What to do about the Dredge Lake beavers has long been a contentious issue in the community. The matter came to a head about a year ago, when Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin announced plans to cull the rodents. Those plans met with opposition from some community members who believed there was a better solution.
"The real objective was not necessarily to reduce the beaver population, but to keep the trails dry and the fish passages open at the least cost to government," said Griffin, a wildlife biologist by training. "Some folks wouldn't accept this low-cost, purely scientific approach."
A group of volunteers stepped forward last December and presented a plan to Griffin for daily monitoring of the area, and working with the Forest Service to clear culverts and alter dams. Griffin agreed to let the volunteers try their approach.
For the past year, up to 15 volunteers, including members of the Juneau Parks and Recreation Department hiking group, students from Juneau Youth Services and the high school football team, have worked with the Forest Service on the project.
Fisheries Biologist Pete Schneider and Forester March Scholten are just two Juneau Ranger District employees who assisted the group by providing GPS data on of beaver dam locations, along with information on environmental requirements for beavers.
"I appreciate the volunteers' efforts to strike a balance between maintaining a variety of recreation opportunities while at the same time supporting the habitat needs of beavers," said Schneider.
Efforts have paid off for both beaver and recreationists. Group spokesperson Bob Armstrong reported on conditions as of Thursday this week:
All culverts in Steep Creek, Dredge Lake and the holding pond are clear
All dams are open enough to allow fish passage and avoid flooding
Beaver lodges at Moose, Crystal and Dredge Lakes appear to have the right level of water-not too high to flood beaver sleeping quarters, not too low to prevent them from reaching their winter food supply
A number of cottonwood trees that could potentially fall across main trails have been circled with wire mesh to prevent beavers from felling them
Volunteers also cleared the dam at the new outlet of Moraine Lake that was causing flooding on the north part of the Moraine Lake Trail. The flooded section has not yet dried up, so hikers and skiers should beware of ice in that area.
The hard work isn't over yet. Those beavers could get busy again. Armstrong and volunteer Mary Willson will monitor the area for renewed activity and will coordinate additional efforts with the Juneau Ranger District.
Unbeknownst to the beavers in the Dredge Lakes area, their activity taught some community members a thing or two-not just about beavers, but about public involvement.
"I learned a lot from this effort-not about beavers, but about how to work with people and the public," said Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin. "To manage resources we need to ask the right questions, and in asking sometimes the public comes up with a possible solution that we hadn't considered."
Griffin also noted the old adage, "actions speak louder than words."
"It's easy to stand on the sidelines and throw verbal rocks, but it takes real effort to roll up your sleeves and actually do something," said Griffin. "I admire these folks for stepping up and being willing to contribute to the solution by volunteering their time and efforts."
According to volunteer Bob Armstrong, volunteering also has its rewards: "This has been a wonderful learning experience," he said. "At the beginning I didn't know a lot about beavers, but now I know enough to write a book."
Armstrong and co-volunteer Mary Willson are indeed working on a beaver book. "Beavers by the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska," chronicles the natural history of beavers in the area. The 60-page book also includes a collection of color photographs. Armstrong and Willson hope it will be available at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in time for tourist season this May.