The Watershed Nature Center
in Edwardsville, Ill., was founded almost twenty years ago by local citizens who saw the potential for a wetland preserve on land reclaimed from the city's old water treatment plant. Created in order "to promote environmental stewardship and provide opportunities for the community to understand and appreciate nature," the center also works toward the preservation and restoration of the local ecosystem. The promise of this mission makes the current situation all the more disturbing: Visitors have seen repeated evidence that the center is encouraging beavers
, a key member of this ecosystem, to be trapped and killed within the preserve.
As part of the Cahokia Creek watershed, the nature center contains valuable wetland which is home to a number of native species, including beavers. These remarkable animals have made a successful comeback after being extirpated from Illinois in the early 1900s, when they were nearly driven to extinction by excessive fur hunting. It took nearly thirty years of re-introduction and careful management before Illinois' beaver population showed signs of recovery. They remain protected today.
Beavers and their dams are essential to the health and wellbeing of wetland ecosystems, like the one conserved by the Watershed Nature Center. If suitable habitat is available, most beavers prefer to burrow into the banks of streams or ponds. There, monogamous pairs of adults raise litters of kits in the dry safety of dens. In the absence of suitably deep water, however, beavers will build dams to regulate water levels, providing crucial habitat for a number of other wetland species, 197 of which are currently endangered
in Illinois. The dams create deep water pools which resist winter freezing and provide protection from predation. The beavers also contribute nutrients for local aquatic life and help maintain the health and density of nearby groves.
Despite the benefits of beavers, landowners occasionally find themselves at odds with the animals, largely due to unwanted flooding or tree loss. However, because of beavers' protected status and their important contribution to the wetland ecosystem, experts agree that the best solution to a beaver problem is to let the beavers be. The University of Illinois Extension
(a partner of the Watershed Nature Center) says that "While beaver dam building [and tree felling] can cause humans all sorts of headaches, this behavior plays an incredibly important role in proper ecosystem functioning. ... Beaver colonies and their dams should be tolerated whenever possible."
In its Lake Notes
publication, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency agrees: "Controlling beaver activity is only allowed for beavers causing significant damage. Otherwise, beavers are protected and should not be bothered." And yet visitors to the Watershed Nature Center report repeated evidence of beavers being trapped and killed.
Why is a nature preserve, ostensibly created to offer refuge to these very animals, killing beavers? What damage have the beavers caused to warrant their extermination?
If flooding is an issue, two simple solutions are readily available. First, the water level at the center is controlled by a sluice gate. Simply adjusting the seasonal water level could compensate for any excessive flooding caused by the beavers. However, beavers (and some other wetland species) need deep water for a reason. Maintaining a water depth that prevents complete freezing in the winter is crucial. Second, installing a Clemson leveler
, a cheap and easy-to-build device, could control beaver flooding without destruction of the beavers or their homes.
If the center's problem is the loss of trees, then I would urge its members to remember that beavers are a natural part of the ecosystem, as is tree loss. Beavers not only use the trees as a source of building material, but also as food. If there are specific trees which require protection, simply wrapping their trunks with heavy gauge hardware cloth or wire mesh will prevent beaver-related damage.
Beavers are an integral part of the wetland ecosystem and their eradication from land conserved for this purpose is appalling. If beavers cannot exist within a wetland preserve, then where are they safe? What is the point of such a preserve? If the Watershed Nature Center's goal is truly to promote an understanding and appreciation of nature, how is the extermination of protected animals a reasonable option? The focus should be on the conservation of a whole, diverse and healthy ecosystem where imablances are addressed without destruction.
If you are as angry as I am about this issue, please pick up the phone, or fire off an email, and let those responsible for the nature center know how you feel.
The City of Edwardsville owns the Nature Center; give the mayor, Mr. Gary Niebur, a call at (618)-692-7530 or email him: email@example.com
Or write to the Edwardsville Intelligencer
, our local newspaper and tell them what you think: 117 N. 2nd St. Edwardsville, IL 62025.
Photo 1: stevehdc/Flickr
Photo 2: Gary Bridgman*
Photo 3: Life is a wonder/Flickr
*This photo, of a dead beaver found in an uncollected trap, was posted to Flickr by Greenway Guide. The photo's author, Gary Bridgman, generously allowed its use for conservation purposes under a Creative Commons license. Click here for a link to the original post.