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Experts say: Make way for BEAVERS

At first, John Young thought the debris on Kellogg Creek, which runs through his backyard, was just a logjam, so he broke it up. The next day he broke it up again.

by: PHOTO BY: JON HOUSE - John Young shows where a beaver (or beavers) have constructed a dam behind his property in Milwaukie.On his third try, he realized he was fighting a losing battle; the logjam was really a beaver dam.

“My son, Tom, who is a marine biologist, said, ‘Dad, how long do you want to battle with a rodent? You aren’t going to win.’ That’s when I stopped,” Young said.

by: PHOTO BY: JON HOUSE - Freshly gnawed wood by beavers in the back of John Young's property.So in mid-November, Young called Chris Runyard, the restoration contractor for the North Clackamas Urban Watersheds Council’s Streamside Stewards Program. Young signed up for the program in 2011, and Runyard removed the invasive blackberries and ivy on Young’s Parmenter Drive property, and then planted water-loving native species.

When Runyard returned to Young’s property late last November, he determined there indeed was a beaver dam on Kellogg Creek. At that point, he and Tricia Sears, the NCUWC coordinator, decided to hold a neighborhood meeting in January to discuss the situation and address concerns.

“We had Susan Barnes, who is with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, at the meeting, because she has a great deal of knowledge about beavers. Neighbors voiced their concerns, and we determined that there will not be a lot of detrimental impacts because the houses around the beaver pond are set back,” Sears said.

Neighbors were concerned about tree loss and the change in water levels, but their eroding stream banks should reverse and actually fill in a bit over time, Runyard said, adding that he and another man made a video from a raft in the pond and showed the residents what their new pond looked like from the water.

“The neighborhood meeting helped answer many of the questions about the possible benefits of the beaver dam. We also learned that their appetite for trees might not be limited to just those along the creek bank, and we may need to put up fencing to protect them from these night-time chewers. In the meantime, the ducks certainly like the expanded water areas, which makes things more scenic,” said Steven and Marsha Morasch.

Alice Szanto has lived in the area for 20 years, and her grandparents lived there before she did. None of them had ever seen the creek rise like it did in November. When she found out about the beaver dam, like the other neighbors, she was worried about trees falling and damage to the hillsides.

At the meeting she learned that “the beaver might chew a substantial amount of trees, but the county can keep planting them, and there are ways to protect the trees we want to keep. We have a living National Geographic series in our backyards. I consider myself lucky,” Szanto said. 

Linda Burgard said it was helpful to have someone from the ODFW at the meeting to answer questions, and, like the other neighbors, was worried about trees disappearing. But now that she knows how to protect trees on her property, she feels more positive about the beaver dam.

“The pond in the backyard is great now. We have more ducks, and yesterday our beloved heron returned. The grandkids also love all the new wildlife,” she said.

The beaver dam is certainly a positive for the watershed, said Mike Pinker, who lives in the neighborhood.

“Beavers provide good environmental services. They help cool the water temperature and create habitat for other animals. A beaver community on Kellogg Creek is the sign of a healthy watershed; beavers are our partners, and they are able to do a much better job than we can,” he said.

Beavers pose no danger to humans and pets, subsisting only on a diet of tree bark. However, “humans should observe, but not disrupt the beavers. The dams should be left intact, and the beavers should not be fed human food. It is very rare to actually see a beaver; they are pretty sneaky and avoid human contact,” Runyard said.

Dam’s advantages

Runyard argued that the wetland area of Kellogg Creek between Thiessen and Rusk roads was perfect place for the new beaver family to move in, because the pond just replaces the soggy bottoms of the existing wetlands.

by: PHOTO BY: JON HOUSE - Tricia Sears, coordinator for the North Clackamas Urban Watershed Council, looks at a trail caused by a beaver between a newly dammed lake, and an older man-made lake.As far as he can see, the only drawback, so far, is that some vegetation may die.

“There is some skunk cabbage that will probably die, as well as quite a few ash, alders, willows and cottonwoods. Most of these are far enough from houses and structures to not have any damage concern,” Runyard said.

There are now two smaller beaver dams at the same site, and he said that “the new beaver dams will improve salmon, bird, amphibian and mammal habitat. The dams will retain mud and sediment in the pond, slow down the waters and infiltrate more water into the ground. This will benefit the creek and residents downstream.”

Runyard added that studies of streams with beavers show that the salmon are bigger and more numerous than in streams without beavers, and salmon can navigate creeks that are dammed by beavers, just as they have done for thousands of years.

“Beavers are one part of a healthy salmon watershed. Imagine watching the salmon spawn from the bridge at Southeast Thiessen Road,” Runyard said.

Public education needed

NCUWC had done a lot of native tree and shrub planting in four of the properties along this section of the creek; all are part of the Streamside Stewards Program.

“A lot of our plants are now underwater. Some of them will still make it, as this has always been a very wet site. Of course, some will die, but we will still be able to plant higher on the banks where it is drier. We are still talking to more neighbors around the pond, and as the beaver makes more dams downstream, we will be talking with more people,” Runyard said.

To continue to educate the public about the beaver dams, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has produced a document called “Living with Wildlife: American Beaver,” posted to both the ODFW and NCUWC websites.

Runyard added, “If we are going to bring strong salmon runs back into the Kellogg Creek watershed, we have to re-create their habitat. The beaver can help engineer that change and create a healthy place for the coho to thrive. The challenge is to identify locations for this to happen without impacting property owners.”

To find out more about beavers, visit the ODFW home page at dfw.state.or.us, click on Living With Wildlife, then click on beavers, or visit martinezbeavers.org or beaversolutions.com.

To learn more about the North Clackamas Urban Watersheds Council, including the Streamside Stewards Program, visit the NCUWC website at ncuwc.org, or call Tricia Sears, coordinator, at 503-550-9282. 

Biologist fields concerns about dam

When neighbors near Parmenter Drive in Milwaukie learned that a beaver was building a series of dams in their backyards along Kellogg Creek, they were quick to voice their concerns.

“The biggest issue by neighbors was loss of trees. Neighbors were encouraged to protect the trees that they absolutely were not OK with beaver chewing with properly installed hardware cloth/wire fence,” said Susan Barnes, Northwest regional conservation biologist, with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“The other solution is to give the beaver other alternatives by continuing to plant native shrubs and trees in the riparian area. Also, it was pointed out that many of the shrub and tree species that the beaver is chewing on or felling won't actually be killed," she said.

"Herbivory action stimulates plant growth so trees and shrubs may look dead, but many will actually send up new shoots/stems at the site of chewing,” Barnes added.

As for the positive effects of beaver dams, Barnes said that the dams are “highly productive ecosystems for fish and wildlife, like birds, bats, mink, weasel, raccoon, coyote, shrews, frogs, salamanders, turtles and snakes.”

In addition, beaver dams create wetlands, which are a high-priority habitat. 

“Even though we have laws that protect them to some extent, most wetlands have been lost. They are critical for storing water, cooling water, releasing water and reducing flashy flows typical in urban streams, like Kellogg Creek,” Barnes said.

She also noted that beaver activity at small sites is usually temporary, with access to food being a limiting factor for the beaver. 

Barnes added, “Beavers are habitat changers and creators. We humans often have trouble with change, and we want to or need to forecast future events to some extent, because we have put roads and houses too close to streams and installed undersized culverts under roads.”

Contact Susan Barnes, ODFW conservation biologist, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..