Local News

Monday, Nov 04 2013 04:18 PM

Chew on this: The bike path beaver is back

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Plastic fencing wrapped around the trunk of this tree at The Park at Riverwalk protects the tree from destructive beavers. Approximately 35 trees in the park have been wrapped.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Bakersfield City service maintenance worker Steve Eoff with a 1-year-old oak tree that was chewed down by a beaver at The Park at Riverwalk.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Nearly two years after we left him, having felled eight trees at Truxtun Lake, the fabled bike path beaver is back on the gnaw at the Park at Riverwalk, and making a winter home near the Bright House Networks Amphitheatre.

As North America's largest rodent, weighing up to 70 pounds, the beaver is semi-aquatic and hard of hearing.

His shortcomings and long front teeth are less funny to the city, which regularly battles beavers over their desire to chew.

Recreation and Parks Director Dianne Hoover says the beaver, or beavers, have damaged three Oak trees during the past two weeks, and have felled 11 bay, crape myrtle and redbud trees, costing the city around $550.

In response, city crews have wrapped the bottom three feet of the trunks of more than 30 trees at Riverwalk in green nylon netting that resembles chicken wire, or a very small-gauge chain-link fence.

The device has a better than 90 percent success rate, a parks employee said, at convincing beavers to eschew trees.

Crews have dug out the tree stumps at Riverwalk because they're a hazard.

"They go through and gnaw around and leave a spike, so we had to remove those for safety reasons. We think they're coming from Kern River Canyon and migrating down. That's what we think, but we don't really know for sure," said Hoover, who described the city's efforts as "trying to live in harmony with all."

City plans to trap and dispatch the nocturnal scofflaws fizzled in 2007 amid public outcry over killing them. The solution, orange plastic tree trunk netting -- the predecessor to the harder-to-see green variety -- was only slightly more popular.

This time, it's unclear how many of the animals are munching on city trees.

City Service Maintenance Worker Steve Eoff, who works at the Park at Riverwalk, said this could be the work of two or three beavers. While inspecting a chewed-up oak behind the amphitheater recently, the ground caved in, and he found he'd been standing atop a beaver lodge.

Once hunted for their pelts, beavers are famed for their curious behavior, which includes collecting wood to dam streams and building lodges in the ponds they create, slapping the water with their tails when startled; and for their two front incisors, which constantly grow.

The only way to wear down those two front teeth is to chew, and chew again.

In raids on bike path trees, which have cost the city around $3,000 during the last four years, the beavers usually hone their choppers on soft woods including cottonwoods, sycamores and poplars.

Chewing, er, choosing oak this year is probably less the rodents setting personal goals by picking a hardwood than it is just their irresistible compulsion to chomp.

"It's fine, and they're nice to look at, but if they didn't chew the trees down, that'd be good," Eoff said. "It's like the old Winnie the Pooh line -- Tiggers do what Tiggers do."

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