Local News

Monday, Aug 24 2009 06:23 PM

Toothy terror strikes River Walk trees

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    By Henry A. Barrios

    Henry A. Barrios / The Californian A beaver peaks through the tules on the edge of the lake where it rests during the middle of the day. The beaver is believed to have destroyed several trees near the lake at River Walk Park recently.

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    By Henry A. Barrios

    Henry A. Barrios / The Californian A damaged tree is protected from beavers by an orange plastic wrap near the bike path at the Park at River Walk

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    By Henry A. Barrios

    Henry A. Barrios / The Californian A beaver dips into the lake at the Park at River Walk to escape from people trying to catch a glimpse of the beaver. The beaver is believed to have destroyed several trees near the lake recently.

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  4. 4 of 5

    By Henry A. Barrios

    Henry A. Barrios / The Californian Trees along the bike path near the Park at River Walk are wrapped in plastic to protect them from a beaver that has destroyed several trees.

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    By Henry A. Barrios

    Henry A. Barrios / The Californian City of Bakersfield employee Carlos Luna wraps trees near the lake at the Park at River Walk to protect the trees from a beaver in the lake that has destroyed several trees.

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BY HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

The trees or the beaver? The beaver or the trees?

It's a question to bedevil even the most ardent of nature lovers and one being debated yet again after a weekend bender by the infamous bike path beaver made toothpicks of a pair of good-size cottonwoods at the Park at River Walk.

To be fair, this may have been the work of more than one ravenous rodent. No one's really sure. At least one beaver was spotted in the park's west lake Monday, swimming innocently, oblivious to the national headlines and local hand-wringing it has prompted over the last two years.

This is the toothy terror (or perhaps terrors) that first surfaced in the fall of 2007 at River Walk and mowed down 18 trees. A year later, in 2008, the beaver resurfaced and made a cord of wood from nine trees. In three years, the crafty culprit has chewed through 28 trees.

"The trees, (mostly cottonwoods, but sycamores too) have an average replacement value of $500 per tree," said Dianne Hoover, director of Recreation and Parks for the city of Bakersfield.

"This includes staff time for removal of the rest of the tree, price of a new tree, installing the tree, and extra water during its establishment period."

The destruction created a national stir a couple of years ago when local officials put out a contract on the beaver. Critics of the kill-on-sight policy included Jodi Brenner from Beltsville, Md., who sent a letter to the California state governor's office:

"I saw an article on CNN.com that had a link to a Bakersfield, CA news station about a beaver that has been sentenced to death by wildlife officials for gnawing on trees in a local park. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Why has this creature been sentenced to death for doing the only thing that it knows how to do?"

Even the Oregon State Athletic department (Beavers) came to the beaver's defense and plans for the rodent's removal were shelved in 2007 and 2008. Now, with last weekend's carnage, the conversation begins anew.

"We want to protect the trees along the bike path," said Hoover, who is careful not to come across as some crazed, wannabe beaver killer. "However, these trees were paid for by companies like PG&E, came from state grant money and were planted by volunteers."

In order to remove a pesky beaver, cities or counties can apply to the state for a depredation permit, which the city did. It was granted the permit and had enlisted the help of Eric Covington, a federal trapper with the USDA Wildlife Services.

"They're easy to trap if the beaver is uneducated -- in other words, a beaver that hasn't any experience with traps before," Covington said.

Ph.D beavers aside, Covington has never had the opportunity to ply his trade because no one could figure what to do with the beaver once it was trapped. Removing it from this earth (there are an estimated 10-15 million beavers in the U.S) was creating a public relations nightmare and relocating it wasn't any better.

"If you move it somewhere else, Fish and Game, has to be responsible for future damage," said Covington. "You also have to tag it and have a place to take it."

Nobody is mad at the beaver. They just wish it would swim, walk or fly to the body of water near Manor where one of its brethren is making short shrift of a stand of old trees that nobody much cares about.

In the meantime, city workers have wrapped the trees near the east and west lakes at the park in the bright orange plastic mesh designed to deter even the most industrious beaver. Hoover is also tearing down any attempts by the beaver at erecting new habitat (called lodges in the beaver world).

Beavers, not indigenous to our area but here since the 1800s when they were introduced by fur trappers, make their lodges in the late summer and the fall. Perhaps the solution lies in some sort of seasonal accommodation. Either that or the introduction of a less tasty cottonwood tree or one more able to defend itself.

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