Working With Beavers to Minimize Negative Impacts

Beavers are native to New York State and play an important role in the natural landscape. They are ecosystem engineers – altering water levels by building strong dams using branches and mud; and creating wetland habitat where many plants and animals thrive. However in the wrong place, their dams can cause flooding and property damage. In 2016 a project was developed to minimize beaver impacts by building and installing Beaver Deceivers/ Flood Control Devices. Beaver deceivers stop the flooding caused by beavers, while continuing to allow beavers to live in State Park wetlands and other water bodies.

What is a beaver deceiver?

There are typically two kinds of beaver deceivers; a Trapezoidal-shaped Exclusion Fence (or Trapezoidal Fence for short) and a Pond Leveling Device. Let’s learn the purpose for each:

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graphic by Lilly Schelling

The Trapezoidal Fence is intended for situations where the beavers’ dam is clogging a culvert and may cause damage to the culvert itself.  The fence is placed in front of the culvert, extending out at least 12 feet out from shore with a closed floor so the beaver can’t dig under it. Beavers usually then build their dams along the sides of the fence but not the back – allowing water to flow through the fence into the culvert.

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graphic by Lilly Schelling

A Pond Leveling Device is made using an existing beaver dam. The dam is dug out (notched) to drop the water body to a desired water level and a corrugated pipe is placed through the dam and then covered back up with dam materials. Both ends are caged off to ensure water flow. The pond leveling device allows the beavers to continue building their dam around the pipe without raising water levels. Thus it prevents flooding of nearby roads and other use areas.

Installation

Materials for this project included 12″ corrugated pipe sections, 6 gauge epoxy coated fencing, copper hog rings to hold the fence together, and cinder blocks to sink structures and pipe.

Here’s a project where we dug out the beaver dam. It was fascinating to see how fast the water level  dropped. Beavers are extremely efficient! We also saw about 20 trout swim upstream over the dam to the beaver pond, taking advantage of the new access to the habitat. Naturally, the trout would persist below the dam until the dam fell apart after the beavers moved to a new home – which they do periodically. But in this case, we saw how our deceivers are also able to benefit other native animals.

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Occasionally, with very persistent beavers, the two deceiver methods may need to be combined (i.e. a Trapezoidal Fence with a Pond Leveling Device attached). This picture is the installation of the combined devices at the culvert under Route 301 on Canopus Lake in Clarence Fahnestock State Park. A boat was needed to move the dome and pipe around in the deep water.  Photo by Lilly Schelling

Finished Product

A pond leveling device installed at the bridge on the School Rd. Trail. The objective of this device was to decrease water levels so the trail would stop flooding. The line on the tree was the water level prior to installation.

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Trapezoidal Fence after installation on Beaver Pond Trail at Glimmer Glass State Park, photo by Lilly Schelling.

State Parks wildlife staff will monitor these beaver deceivers to ensure they continue to functioning properly and that they are still in place. Freezing and thawing during seasonal change may shift the placement of the device. Overall these devices have proven to be highly successful in solving beaver related flooding issues. It is great to solve human wildlife conflict in such a way that both human and wildlife can remain in the same area and neither is pushed out.

Post by Lilly Schelling, State Park Wildlife staff

Delicious, Nutritious and oh so… SWEET!

Can you guess which delicious fruit this is?

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American cranberry, Photo by Keith Weller [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, which means we’re about to start thinking about this little red berry. It will, we’re all betting, be the only certified super food on your plate come Thanksgiving dinner time (unless your family does kale or something). Native to North America and was first used as a food by Native Americans. It was also used as an effective dyeing agent, so don’t spill any on your shirt. We have two species , large and small (Vaccinium macrocarpon and Vaccinium oxycoccus) which are found naturally in peat bogs and other wetlands across the northern half of North America, including all of New York state. As the fruit became more popular, farms were developed to meet the demand. This delicious fruit was planted in areas that could be flooded for part of the season; the berries are harvested each fall. Today, Wisconsin and Massachusetts are the two largest producing states. Sailors used them as scurvy prevention in the 19th century as the berries are rich in vitamin C. Now we know that it can lower your risk for some common cancers (including mouth and lung cancers). Come Thanksgiving; make sure you load up on it. But don’t stress too much, they also stay fresh in the refrigerator longer than most other fruits (up to 2 months!) and you can also pop a bag in the freezer for use later.

Follow these links for more fun facts about this all-American fruit!

https://ag.umass.edu/cranberry/about/cranberry

http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=VAMA

Posted by Greta Alvarado, State Parks

Personal Experiences: Excelsior Conservation Corp

Since January, we have been members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps. We work in New York State Parks and state-owned campgrounds and improve the infrastructure (structures that we use to access and enjoy spaces – such as roads, trails, buildings, etc.) of these natural areas. One of our first experiences as members of this program took place in Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks. Our project was to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) workers, and produce thunder boxes (box toilets), outhouses, and register boxes (for trailheads). We helped cut, paint, and attach all of the pieces, and then put them together in a way that would help people in the future easily assemble them in the field. Our crew enjoyed carpentry projects such as this. We did more than just improve our carpentry skills during those cold March days, we created friendships within our own crew and with the workers in Saranac Lake. To show their appreciation for our hard work, our project partner took us to the summit of White Face Mountain, the fifth tallest mountain in New York! We got to ride in an elevator made by the Civilian Conservation Corps – the group that our Corps is based on. We also explored the weather station that is situated at the summit and marvel at the gorgeous high peaks of the Adirondacks. This was a great time and was just an introduction to the adventures that would follow!

In June, our crew ventured to Robert H. Treman State Park in Ithaca. Our job was to rebuild steps on the Gorge Trail. When we arrived, we found a steep trail covered by asphalt and parking barriers and we had the task to remove it all. We started by prying up the heavy concrete barriers and chipping away at the asphalt. Once removed, we then had to carry it all either up or down the hill, depending on what part of the trail we were on. We estimate that we moved more than 20 tons of material over the course of about 18 days! We then began cutting wood and digging dirt to install box steps – 147 steps to be exact! These steps were made from 3 pieces of wood, continuously stacked on top of each other and filled with gravel. The new steps are safer for hikers and will slow down trail erosion allowing park visitors to enjoy the trail for many years to come!

It was a lot of hard work, but we were rewarded with thousands of thank yous from park visitors, beautiful views (Ithaca really is gorges!), and the satisfaction that comes with another completed project.

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All of the steps were cut by a chainsaw! , photo by Michaela Aney

These were two of the amazing projects we completed this year.

Post by Michaela Aney and Marlena Vera-Schockner, 2016 ECC members

Learn more about the Excelsior Conservation Corps.

Their Blood Runs With Antifreeze

Here in mid-autumn, most of State Park’s summer resident birds and some insects have flown off to warmer climates, but many other animals remain through the winter. Some of the year-round residents are either scurrying around looking for extra food to help to get them through the winter while others are looking for a safe place to sleep away the winter, protected from the cold and snow.

For a handful of animals in the park, finding a place away from the cold and snow can be a challenge due to their inability to dig deep into the ground to escape the cold. Instead, they burrow under the leaves, rocks, rotting logs, or tree bark to escape the worst that winter offers. So a few animals like wood frogs, common box turtles, red efts, and mourning cloak butterflies have a different strategy – the ability to tolerate freezing!

These close to the surface locations protect the animals from snow, ice, wind but not cold winter temperatures. When the temperature in the hibernation spot drops below 32o F, these hibernators freeze, solid.

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Frozen wood frog in Ken Story’s Lab, Carleton University, photo by JM Storey , Carleton University

And there they can remain until the warming days of spring when they thaw, have a snack, and head off to breed.

Some of the animals that tolerate freezing include:

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How are they able to freeze solid then defrost and still be alive?  Natural chemicals and processes in the animal’s blood prevent them from freezing.  The animal’s body produces an “anti-freeze” as the temperature begins to drop; the animal’s body concentrates sugars and other compounds that prevents the animal’s organs from freezing.  The antifreeze prevents the animal’s organs from freezing.  A frozen animal will stop breathing and the heart will stop beating. Most of the fluid in the blood pools in the animal’s body cavity.

In spring, as the weather warms, the animal starts to defrost, and its lungs and heart resume working.  They defrost from the inside out, with the legs and feet being the last to defrost.

Surviving by freezing is just one of the amazing adaptations animals have developed to survive northern winters.

Resources

Cold-blooded in the cold: hibernation Conservationist for Kids, NYS Dept. Conservationist

Emmer, Rick. How do frogs survive winter? Why don’t  they freeze to death? Scientific American

Ken Storey Lab

Rosen, Meghan. Natural antifreeze prevents frogsicles, Science News

Videos

NOVA scienceNOW (2012, July 23). Frozen Frogs.

Smithsonian Channel. (2015, June 18). Frogsicles: Frozen But Still Alive.

Snow Geese at Point au Roche State Park

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Snow Geese at Point au Roche, photograph by Larry Master

The most abundant species of waterfowl in the world, snow geese or snows (Chen caerulescens), breed in the high arctic and spend winters in the eastern U.S., primarily along the Mississippi river and Atlantic coastal states. In our area, during both their fall and spring migration, snow geese tend to linger in the Adirondacks for a month or more, often times in huge flocks of thousands of birds. You are apt to hear them before sighting them. They sound like a huge throng of baying hounds moving slowly but steadily into your range of hearing, and then you may spot them flying way overhead. If they are close enough, you immediately recognize their snow white bodies and jet black wingtips. You can see them on Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River, and the large lakes and marshes in the Finger Lakes region. Point au Roche State Park is a great place to see them up close in the fall as the birds linger on Lake Champlain.

Strong, graceful fliers, snows come down to land by performing a falling leaf maneuver—all of a sudden they seem to lose their balance and start tumbling out of the sky. To watch a large flock of them tumble out of the blue can be pretty amusing. They rank as one of the noisiest birds, barking continually as they fly and vocalizing even as they feed.

You might notice a dark goose or two. Snow geese occur in white or blue colormorphs or forms which ornithologists considered different species until DNA evidence in 1983 confirmed them as one.  They tend to mate with their respective colormorphs and they also segregate somewhat geographically, with most blues breeding and wintering in the middle of the continent and most whites in the east.

Snows feed almost exclusively on plants, preferably in wet areas such as marshes, lakes, impoundments, and waterlogged soil.  They eat everything from stems to leaves to rhizomes and tubers, and have a decided weakness for agricultural fields, which they work for waste grains and seeds.  Their primary method of feeding involves grubbing for rhizomes, tubers and roots by pulling the entire stem of the plant from the soil, with the result that a large flocks can entirely denude an area of vegetation.

Snow geese mate for life and develop strong family bonds, with young birds staying with their parents until their second or third year. Snow geese populations in North America have increased exponentially and in some regions by as much as nine percent a year, which most ornithologists and wildlife managers consider unsustainable.  Essentially victims of their own success, snow geese degrade the habitat in their nesting colonies by eliminating most plant matter and leaving only exposed peat or bare mineral soil, a situation that not only puts pressures on them but also on other species, such as semi-palmated sandpipers and red-necked phalaropes.  But for now, this boom in the population makes for good chances to see snow geese. So get out and enjoy these beautiful birds.  Enjoy the show.

Post by John Thaxton, Northern New York Audubon

Follow these links to learn more about snow geese, snow geese sounds, and a PBS special on snow geese at Point au Roche State Park.

The New York State Parks Blog

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