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Saving the DammedWhy We Need Beaver-Modified Ecosystems$
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Ellen Wohl

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190943523

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190943523.001.0001

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May Plugging the Nutrient Leaks

May Plugging the Nutrient Leaks

(p.57) May Plugging the Nutrient Leaks
Saving the Dammed

Ellen Wohl

Oxford University Press

Just when spring appears to have arrived, a late-season storm blows down from the north. Despite the overcast sky, the temperature at first is beguilingly warm. Rain starts to fall, then changes to sleet as the temperature drops. “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,” indeed. The sleet becomes graupel–crusty, rounded pellets of snow–and then wet flakes. Blobs of slush fall from overhanging branches and float briefly down the creek before melting and dispersing. Pulses of wind and snow gust in as birds shelter silently among the densely needled branches of big spruce trees. The moose that has spent the winter around the beaver meadow lies calmly in a protected spot at the base of a spruce. A foot of snow obliterates the newly green shoots of grass. I see no outward indication of it, but perhaps, in the warm darkness of the lodge, the beaver kits have been born. They start small, only about a pound at birth, but they are born fully furred, with open eyes and incisors erupted, almost ready to get down to the business of chewing branches. Each year’s litter is born in May or early June. Usually two to four kits are born, but a litter can be a single kit or as many as eight kits. Baby food for beavers is herbaceous vegetation, which the kits start eating within two weeks. By the end of July or early August the kits will be weaned and able to forage on their own. A varied diet of vegetation allows them to reach a weight of 10 to 16 pounds by the time the ice returns. The first year is a grace period for the new kits. Unlike the yearlings, the kits do not help maintain the lodge or cache food against the lean days of winter. They simply get to enjoy life and explore the wondrous new world into which they have been born. Diverse human observers watching this exploration by young beavers have interpreted their activities as an expression of joy.

Keywords:   Tierra del Fuego, beaver behavior, beaver physiology, carbon, connectivity, methane

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