This post is a summary of portions of a Q&A panel that occurred after a film screening of Beaver Believers in Washington, VA on January 10, 2020. Responses are paraphrased from memory unless in quotation marks.
Q: How are beavers unique in the larger context of human-wildlife conflict across the world?
Alison Zak: Beavers are unique because, as ecosystem engineers, they have more AGENCY than other wild animals in their interactions with humans. For example, the monkeys I studied who fed on crops couldn’t reforest the farms in which they foraged. Beavers regularly, actively construct the habitat they need by building dams and creating ponds. To me, this is what’s incredible about beavers, but I think it also makes coexistence extra-challenging. Not everyone likes the idea of a rodent with lots of agency.
Q: What are beavers’ natural predators in Northern Virginia?
Skip Lisle: Other than humans? Black bear, coyote, large raptors. Beaver kits are especially buoyant before they learn to dive, so they are more vulnerable to predators then.
Q: How can you tell how many beavers are living in one spot?
Skip Lisle: You have to count them! Beavers are very territorial. “It’s never more than one family. They just build a lot of lodges.”
Q: How can landowners protect trees from being felled by beavers?
Skip Lisle: Wrap trees with 6 or 8 gauge steel mesh cylinders about 2.5 feet up the trunk. “It takes decades to learn flow devices but anyone can protect trees!”
Q: How much does a flow device cost to install?
Skip Lisle: About $2500 on average. Check out the Beaver Deceiver website for more information.
Q: What can landowners who want beavers on their property do to create habitat?
Skip Lisle: Stop loving fields and stop mowing! Convert agricultural land. Leave ‘messy’ riparian buffers as food for beavers. Ideal beaver habitats are low-gradient, small streams.
Alison Zak: We can also start to change the way we think about beavers as a society by changing the way we talk about them. Stop saying ‘nuisance beaver’ and using other terms with similarly negative connotations. They aren’t nuisance beavers- they’re just beavers!
Q: Are the benefits of beavers overstated by ‘beaver believers’?
Alison Zak: Maybe. But in a society that still deals with the majority of human-beaver conflict in lethal and inhumane ways I don’t see that as a problem.
Note: Claire Catlett, also on the panel, spoke eloquently about hydrology and how beavers affect watersheds. I have not summarized her responses in this post, because I don’t understand the content well enough to recreate it here. I couldn’t take notes on stage, so I wouldn’t do it justice!
Thank you to Piedmont Environmental Council, Virginia Working Landscapes, my fellow panelists, the audience, and the creators of The Beaver Believers for a beaverful evening!