Beavers worthy of ‘busy’ slogan

Published 1:32 am Saturday, September 13, 2014

What animal do some people consider the “outstanding engineer of the wild” and the mammal next to man that alters the environment most to suit its needs? If you answered “a beaver,” you were right.

My curiosity about beavers started years ago during a drive from Baldwin County to Panama City, Fla., to visit my mother. Then you could still see a good bit of the Gulf of Mexico and its beautiful beaches along the route. That day, we had passed through Mary Esther, Fort Walton and Destin. Soon after we left Destin, a flagman slowed the traffic for a piece of heavy equipment to cross the road. Construction was underway on both sides of the highway. Right before a building obscured my view of the water, I noticed a black animal hunched over at the edge of the Gulf. I knew it was neither cat nor dog, but what was it? My husband thought it might be an otter. When I caught another glimpse, I saw it walking slowly at the water’s edge.

A dump truck pulled to the side of the road and two young men jumped out of it and raced across the beach toward the animal. By that time, we realized our dachshund puppy needed exercising, so my husband pulled off the road and parked. “What is that thing?” I asked the young men, pointing to the animal. “A beaver,” one answered. “When we got close to it, it sort of snorted at us.” While we stood and watched, it moved into deeper water and swam away, with just its snout showing above the water.

Our puppy completed her beach excursion and hopped in my husband’s arms. As we walked away, she pulled her head from under his elbow and yelped twice. Laughing at our ferocious defender, we got back in the car and tried to piece together what we knew about beavers. One thing we did not know was that they lived around salt water. One of those men mentioned that some beavers lived across the highway. He figured that all the construction work underway had uprooted the one we saw from its home. Later when I mentioned this to a county highway system employee, he chuckled. “I guess those beavers will be causing the Gulf to flood before long,” he quipped.

When I covered meetings of the Covington County Commission for The Andalusia Star-News, one of the commissioners often related stories about beavers in constant battle with his road crew. He said beaver dams caused flooding along county roads and bridges. As fast as crews destroyed a beaver dam, the beavers reconstructed it the same night.

Beavers are definitely clever and persistent. I learned that beavers cut down trees, gnaw off the limbs, cut the main trunk into the right size, and dig canals so it can float to the dam site. Then it plasters the logs together with mud.

I would say that the expression “Busy as a beaver” rings true.