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The Carletonian

Students host Beaver Walk, upcoming Beaver Fest

On the night of Wednesday, Apr. 24, as part of Climate Action Week, Carls attended the Beaver Walk to observe a family of beavers in Lyman Lakes and two beaver dams in the Arb. Jonah Docter-Loeb ’25 and Julianna Baldo ’25 took the group around the lake, discovering that the previous family of three beavers is now a family of four. 


Docter-Loeb introduced the beaver family swimming in the lake alongside honking geese in the distance. “So far, we think there are three [beavers], Boofer, Swamp and Paddles. When they spot you, they just do little circles to check you out. They feel totally safe when they are in the water,” Docter-Loeb said, shining a light on the beaver who slapped its tail loudly. “That’s a tail slap, and they do that to scare away predators, but they’ll pop right back up.”


“I know the beaver who lives here,” group member Ash Kim ’27 jokingly said, “ That’s Dave — he’s my neighbor!” In response, half of the group laughed, and the other half snorted. 


“There’s a fourth [beaver]!” Docter-Loeb pointed out to the group, “Okay, looks like we’re having a beaver naming at Beaver Fest. Last year we only named three.”


“Last weekend, I saw one of the kits and one of the parents wrestling,” Docter-Loeb said. “But beavers have very strong social bonds, that’s one thing to know about them. These beavers are probably two parents and two kits. That kit could be under two years old, but the other kit could be up to three years old. And then the kits will be kicked out of the household sometime soon after the first few years of their life.” 


Leading the group through the Arb,  Docter-Loeb dispelled common beaver myths and explained why Carleton management needs to regulate beaver activity. “Carleton always had beavers as far as I can tell. There are more and more beavers around because there’s less and less demand for fur,” he explained.  “What you end up with is populations that were just decimated by the fur trade starting to finally rebound. They are not overpopulated.” Docter-Loeb and Baldo also clarified, “they don’t have giardia and they don’t eat fish.”


Showing the group a beaver dam, he explained that dam flooding often disrupts an ecosystem, but this disruption is also necessary. “To build dams into flooded wetland, they are killing many creatures in the process,” Docter-Loeb said. “But they’re also creating a home for so many more creatures than they’re actually killing. It’s just a disruption to the current system. But it’s a disruption that so many other plants and animals have evolved alongside and that it’s good for biodiversity overall.”


“Most ecosystems need hard resets like that once in a while because some species don’t have a lot of natural predators and we become overpopulated, it’s why there’s so many geese every year,” Baldo explained.


Beavers can’t immediately alter Carleton’s landscape, but nevertheless, chewing down trees and building dams is still considered a risk factor for students. “They wrapped it with weak metal chicken wire. I don’t know if it was last year or something, but the beaver just pushed it down with its weight,” Docter-Loeb said,  gesturing to a tree that was wrapped with crumpled chicken wire. Simply wrapping tree trunks with weak wire doesn’t always prevent these semi-aquatic rodents from munching and bringing these trees down. As a result, if Carleton did nothing about beaver activity, there is potential for fallen or collapsing trees to block the way of anyone trying to get to the Rec, Goodhue and the Arb. But since the initial tests with chicken wire, the team has started to use heavier-duty wire which is much more effective in preventing damage. 


Beaver dams are also able to change the flow levels of Lyman Lakes, which might raise concerns about the bridge that connects the Cave to Goodhue and the Recreation Center. Docter-Loeb explained that if beavers continued to store a stash of wood under the bridge, there may be concerns about water levels, “[this would] cause water level to rise to the change flow. This bridge was designed in a very specific way with a  very specific flow rate, and this could cause scouring if the beavers wanted to build a dam on this bridge.”


“Beavers have a food cache there right now — what we saw was the remnants from an old food cache from a few years back. As a result of concerns about damage to the bridge, Carleton trapped those beavers,” he added. 


“Let’s say we let them work and not wrap any trees. You would see less trees. You’d probably see more birds. Lyman Lakes would look a little bit different. The real difference would be on Spring Creek. We’ll see their dams. It’s more of a risk management thing than radically changing the landscape,” Docter-Loeb said.  


Then the question begs what ways Carls could live alongside beavers, the focus of Beaver Fest on May 11.  Beaver Fest will also bring the larger Northfield community together, with activities such as a custom tote bag making workshop, beaver arts and crafts and Ofelia’s Fresh Mexican Food featuring Tree Range Farms.


“Ofelia’s Fresh Mexican Food is a family-owned business located in Prior Lake, MN,”  Docter-Loeband said. “From 12 p.m.-4 p.m., Ofelia’s has generously offered to sell delicious handcrafted burritos, tostadas, tacos and enchiladas! Chicken sold by Ofelia’s will be sourced from Tree Range Farms — where chickens are raised in forested pastures where they can forage on plants, sprouted grain and bugs (like the omnivores they are), without the need for antibiotics or restrictive confinement.”


 “The point of Beaver Fest is not to say ‘oh, we need to save the beavers.’ I mean, there’s definitely some of that. It’s more of a ‘living alongside beavers is hard. Let’s talk about how hard it is. There are non-lethal management strategies but there’s also lethal management strategies.’” Docter-Loeb concluded. 


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