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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Busy as a ... natural lumberjack

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Nature's lumberjack has several unique characteristics that make it adept for survival in local Indiana waters.

"These 'engineers of the wilderness' are best known for their abilities to cut down trees and construct dams," according to the Division of Fish and Wildlife of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.

The American beaver, Castor canadensis, is the largest rodent in North America and can weigh between 30 and 70 pounds. They spend most of their life in and around water.

"Generally they like to swim instead of walk," said Dean Zimmerman, the District 6 Wildlife Biologist for the DNR.

Known for its unique broad, flattened tail, the beaver can grow more than 4 feet in length.

The tail is used to help the beaver move mud to build their homes. It is also used as as a rudder and propulsion agent during swimming, and to help them balance when felling trees. Another important uses is that it can be utilized as a signaling device to other beavers.

"When startled the broad, flat tail is smacked on the surface of the water, alerting other beaver in the area of possible danger," says the DNR website.

One common misconception is that beavers live in the dam or in a house of sticks in the middle of the lake.

"Most beaver in Indiana live in a modified bank burrow," says the DNR website.

Their homes are about 2 feet high and 4-6 feet in diameter and are built out of an elaborate pile of sticks, larger tree limbs and mud.

As strict vegetarians, the beaver's diet mostly consists of the bark and twigs of trees and other woody plants.

"A beaver's favorite meal is twigs from aspens, poplars, alders and for a side dish, water grasses, fleshy roots, and water lilies," says the Evironmen-tal Education for Kids website.

The history of the beaver in Indiana has been one of struggle. Early on their pelts were used as currency for fur trappers and Indian traders. The most important part of the fur is the soft underbelly.

"Beaver underfur pelts contain densely matted strands that are particularly suitable for transforming felt, and in much of 17th-century Europe wide-brimmed felt hats were in high demand," says University of Minnesota Professor Ken Mitchell's website.

The fur can also be used as parts of winter coat. However, this fashion has died out as other animals furs became more prized.

"In fact, it was disputes over trapping rights for beaver that fueled the French and Indian Wars," says the DNR website.

By the 1920s, beaver pelts were worth about $100 apiece and the beaver was over-hunted. In 1840 beavers were very rare in Indiana but with the help of the Indiana Department of Conservation made a slow comeback.

In 1935, the organization acquired several pairs of breeding beavers from Wisconsin. Those original beavers soon spread throughout the state and beavers are found in almost every county in Indiana now.

Today it is still legal to trap beaver. "Beaver are not endangered in Indiana and there is an open trapping season," says Zimmerman.

"It is estimated that without control, the beaver population would increase by about one-third each year," according to the DNR.

The hunting season this year is from Nov. 15 to March 15. The going price for an unskinned beaver today is about $10.

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