It’s hard not to admire beavers. They’re so industrious. Armed with a mouthful of teeth and a paddle for a tail, they build a comfortable home by felling trees and digging canals.
Reston residents Jeff and Jeanette Thomas, whose backyard slopes downward to a wooded stream area between Glade Drive and Lawyers Road, have watched this winter as a family of beavers cut down trees to build a dam.
“They are elusive. We don’t actually see them, but we see their activity,” said Jeanette Thomas, referring to their expanding dam. After about three months of work, the beavers have nearly clogged the small stream that runs along and near a Reston Association pathway through the woods.
“As far as I can tell, the water is going to go up and up right into people’s backyards,” said Jeanette Thomas, adding that it could flood parts of the pathway. “It would probably make our backyard pretty ugly, but I don’t mind; it’s part of nature.”
But RA’s environmental resource manager, Claudia Thompson-Deahl plans to prevent any flooding.
FOR THE PAST four months, RA’s environmental management staff has closely monitored the situation. According to Thompson-Deahl the beavers aren’t where they’re supposed to be. The beavers built their dam about 100 yards farther upstream from an RA-designated area for beavers in the Glade Stream Valley, a management area fenced off and marked with signs for passersby.
“I guess the beavers didn’t read the signs,” joked Jeanette Thomas.
The Beaver Management Area in the valley, a large stretch of the stream and woods, is gated with wired fencing to keep the beavers from migrating to other parts of the valley.
Claudia Thompson-Deahl, RA’s environmental resource manager, thinks the beavers got out of the management area last fall when a gate under a bridge was lodged open after a storm. The gate, built five years ago by RA’s manager of construction and repair, Dan Warfield, was designed to keep the beavers in the management area. “The water can go through, but the beavers can’t,” said Warfield, describing the gate, which was featured on the television show "Animal Planet" for its innovation.
Thompson-Deahl, unwilling to kill the beavers, filed for a waiver that would allow the beavers to be trapped and moved back into the management area.
But after being contacted, the trapper said it was too late in the season to move the beavers without killing them. “I didn’t want to move them and have them die,” said Thompson-Deahl.
Instead, Thompson-Deahl decided to trap and move the beavers in the early spring and then take down the dam. “It’s a bummer because some of the trees have come down,” said Thompson-Deahl, who has received phone calls from members about the dam.
In the meantime, RA has fenced off some residential yards that might be affected and many individual trees to safeguard the pathway. Jeanette Thomas’s son, Matthew, 12, continues to watch the beavers’ progress. “Me and my friend have been observing it for a few weeks now,” said Matthew, impressed with the beavers’ ingenuity.
THE GLADE STREAM Valley has been home to beavers for about 18 years, off and on. Thompson-Deahl said beavers originally entered the stream system from the Twin Branches end, probably traveling up from the Potomac River via Difficult Run.
The beavers first caused a stir among residents about 16 years ago, when a pair began to raise a family at the east end of Glade Drive and stayed in that area for about five years. During that time, RA conducted several meetings with residents, county officials and wildlife experts to determine what to do, Thompson-Deahl said.
“You had people with signs that read, ‘Protect the beavers,’ and ‘Leave it to beaver,’” said Thompson-Deahl, who has worked at RA for 23 years. “We did a lot of soul-searching about how to resolve the problem.”
RA instituted a policy that allowed the beavers to stay as long as wooded hillsides, residential property, pathways, utilities and bridges were preserved. In the past 14 years, as beavers have moved into and out of the valley, RA has implemented that policy, installing wire fencing around the management area to keep beavers off the wooded slopes and out of people's yards. They have also inserted pipes in dams to keep the water from rising high enough to flood pathways and bridges.