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Residents form group to learn more about beavers in neighborhood

Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Despite the tree damage caused by beavers in their neighborhood, residents like Mike Watters have formed a group to help educate the community about living with the animals.It began with a birthday dinner.

Peggy Watters was celebrating alongside her husband, Mike, and friends from the neighborhood when Paul Spindel — the Watters’ next door neighbor — turned to her with a strange request.

For almost five years, Spindel, Watters and other neighbors had been dealing with beavers that had taken residence in the creek behind their homes in the Bolton area. Trees had been destroyed, at times chewed more than halfway through before being cut down, and the Watters were forced to install new barriers around their property after a beaver destroyed one of their pear trees.

But this wasn’t an adversarial relationship. The beavers could be a pain, but Watters, Spindel and fellow neighbor Marla Gaarenstroom were also fascinated by their presence and the domino effect it seemed to have on the ecology of the area.

And so it was that during this birthday dinner, about four months ago, Spindel made his request to Peggy Watters.

“I think you need to get a group going,” he said. “I think we need to do something about this.”

Watters agreed, and B.E.A.V. was born.

Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - From left to right, Paul Spindel, Marla Gaarenstroom, Peggy and Mike Watters have learned to live with the beavers behind their homes, and hope to teach others how to do the same.

B.E.A.V., which stands for “Beaver Environmental Advocacy Volunteers,” is an eight-person group intended to help educate residents on what it means to have beavers in a neighborhood — beyond the obvious tree-chomping problems. On Sunday, B.E.A.V. will host an informational meeting at the West Linn Public Library with special guest Susan Barnes, a conservation biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We’re just a little group that got started because we started talking to each other,” Peggy Watters said. “Marla and I were distributing flyers, and we started to hear from other people that we had never heard from. We’re not the only people impacted by the beaver, we’re just the ones who started talking.”

Gaarenstroom, for her part, is also member of the Friends of Maddax Woods group, and has helped facilitate a partnership between the “Friends” and B.E.A.V.

“We’re just right at the point where one of our objectives for the “Friends” group is to start to educate our community with the nature that is in our backyard and at Maddax Woods,” Gaarenstroom said. “So we’re using Maddax Woods as a nature resource to communicate with the community about various things, and one would be the American beaver. It’s right in our backyard in certain places.”

Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Marla Gaarenstroom, one of the founding members of B.E.A.V. stands over what is called the 'beaver slide' that leads down to their dams.

In canvassing the neighborhood, Gaarenstroom and Watters found that opinions on the beavers’ presence were predictably mixed.

“(Some) people wanted to shoot them, they wanted to relocate them, they wanted to make them go away,” Watters said. But others agreed that the beavers were a net positive for the neighborhood, particularly in the ecological changes they helped facilitate. Since the first beaver arrived five years ago, the habitat has blossomed to include other new arrivals like frogs, nettle plants and even a red-tailed hawk.

“The positive benefits are well known about beavers — they change a habitat and good things happen,” Watters said. “Our mission, which we came up with at our first little meeting, was to preserve and enhance the beaver habitat while protecting private property.”

It won’t be easy, and that’s why B.E.A.V. organized the information session at the library. Communication and understanding, more than anything else, are what the group hopes to promote.

“We need other people to understand,” Watters said. “This is lots of people’s private property — we can’t go doing stuff down here on other people’s private property. We need their understanding.

“There’s no action plan. We just need to get people educated.”

“The American Beaver” discussion will take place at the library community room from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 25. The event is free, but seating is limited. For more information, call Marla Gaarenstroom at 503-557-8905.

Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Peggy Watters and Paul Spindel point out the burrows recently built by the beavers.

Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Paul Spindel suggested the idea for B.E.A.V. to Peggy Watters at her birthday dinner about four months ago.

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