When Beavers Attack

Our week in Wisconsin was about more than just falling out of kayaks. It was also about enjoying the natural world. And we particularly enjoyed the natural world on the day we went hiking at the Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary, which was about 30 miles from our cabin.

Some early fall color at Hunt Hill.
Some early fall color at Hunt Hill.

Hunt Hill has 400 acres of woods, meadow, and bogs – plus two glacial lakes. It was also one of the few places to hike where you didn’t need an orange jacket to reduce the chance of being shot by a hunter. While the main deer season is in November, in mid-September Wisconsin allows black bear hunting, wild turkey hunting, and crossbow hunting of deer. Hunting goes on in most public lands, but not in Audubon Sanctuaries.

Beaver on the rampage. Photo: Lauren Smith.
Beaver on a rampage. Photo: Lauren Smith.

There was still plenty of mayhem going on, though mostly it was perpetrated by beavers.

I mean, really, look at this.
I mean, really, look at this.

Walking near one of the one of the lakes we were astounded by the number of trees cut down by the little furry vandals.

2014-09-19 14.13.43 Hunt Hill
Tree placed by beavers across path.

In what may have been acts of rodent sabotage, we found large trees that had been felled so that they lay across hiking trails.

There was no way this tree was going to end up in the water.
There was no way this tree was going to end up in the water. So what’s the point?

I understand about how they use trees to build dams, but many of the trees taken down were not by the water. Perhaps those were just for practice, or it might have just been beavers on a rampage.

Acorns were plentiful.
Acorns were plentiful.

We were in a part of Wisconsin where the deciduous forest gradually transitions to coniferous, making the woods here especially diverse.

Birch trunks.
Birch trunks.

Birch and white pine mixes with oak and maple.

Jack-in-the-pulpit berries?
Jack-in-the-pulpit berries?

Walking through a bog we saw the green fruit of what seemed to be jack-in-the-pulpit. I didn’t think they grew in bogs, and wondered if these might be the berries of pitcher plants – but Google Images made that seem unlikely.

2014-09-19 14.22.13 hunt hill moss

This was a happy place for mosses.

2014-09-19 14.29.05 hunt hill fungus

Not to mention fungus.

We also hiked through some of the meadows, which were traversed by grassy trails.

2014-09-19 14.42.37

You could see how these meadows would easily turn into shrubland and then woods without regular mowing.

Goldenrod, aster, and wild raspberry
Goldenrod, aster, and wild raspberry

There were grasses, asters, goldenrods, and other wildflowers – but also lots of wild raspberry and young woody plants.

Milkweed pods.
Milkweed pods.

The raspberry leaves were turning various shades of red, which combined nicely with the yellow goldenrod and blue aster.

Some kind of shrub dogwood.
Some kind of shrub dogwood.

We never actually did see any beavers or even much in the way of birds, but I am told that in general the birdwatching is excellent. And they have a very successful bluebird breeding program!

If you find yourself in northwest Wisconsin, near the town of Sarona, Hunt Hill is worth a visit. Just watch out for falling trees.

24 Comments on “When Beavers Attack

  1. I don’t understand why the beavers do that either – we have a problem with them felling trees across pathways and in the middle of the woods down near our river. I have also never seen them but I think that’s because they are mostly nocturnal. Your hike looked good – nice mix of wild flowers and colour.

  2. As you hoped, when I read your title I thought you’d been attacked by beavers as well as falling into the river! It must be quite hard work for the beavers to bite through the trunks of the trees so it seems very strange that they don’t then use them.

  3. I can’t think of much that is better than days walking with my family, your hike looks a very happy day. I had romantic notions of Beavers and no idea they could be little vandals.

  4. Like Christina I thought at first that you had been attacked by marauding beavers. Well they do have sharp teeth.
    I’ m glad that you didn’ t meet any black bears. I read Bill Bryson’ s ‘A Walk in the Woods’. Black bears sound really scary.

  5. We had a tree over 200 feet away from the water cut, but still standing, by the beaver. The diameter of that tree was about a foot. Even if the tree was felled, how in the heck was it going to get down to the water? They are quite destructive!

  6. A lovely hike! Interesting that the beavers do that. Perhaps if someone could answer the question, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” we could better understand the behavior of their beaver cousins.

  7. What a beautiful area. I think Wisconsin must be one of the loveliest places in the fall. As a Canadian I feel obligated to defend the beavers, though. Beavers are not destructive at all. Their actions always improve wildlife habitat and biodiversity because any place where there is water there will be life. Those trees that cross the path may be an incovenience for humans but they will either provide winter food for the beavers in the short term or if left behind to rot they will become nurse trees for a variety of plants and/or habitat for various wildlife. ❤ Castor canadensis!

  8. Ha! I too thought you had been in a tight spot with a beaver!
    What a beautiful part of the world, I really would have enjoyed a week there in the middle of the woods!
    I cannot fathom why anyone would ever want to shoot a black bear or a deer, especially with a crossbow, there is such a lot of room for error and suffering to the animal….I wonder if there is any place at all were wildlife is left in peace.
    Now I’m really interested in why the beavers would go to all that trouble for nothing….lovely post.xxx

  9. This would have been just to my liking, Jason! Out in the wild woods among the “critters” as you call them. When we travelled around South America we got the chance to see them at the end of the world (Tierra del fuego) and I still remember the magical atmosphere there.

  10. The beavers fell the trees so they can get at the succulent branches that grow at the top of them. They cut them from the tree, drag them under water and stick the cut end deep in the muck so they have an underwater branch garden to eat under the ice all winter. If they didn’t cut the trees they wouldn’t survive. It’s unusual to see a beaver on land in daylight.
    The single leaf under those berries tells me that the plants aren’t Jack in the pulpit, but they might be green dragons (Arisaema dracontium). Jack in the pulpits do like boggy ground that might flood occasionally but they won’t live in standing water.
    The meadow looks just like they do here in New Hampshire!

  11. Beautiful mosses and that meadow is very pretty. Must be a lot of work to keep it in that condition. I thought of Arum when I saw that stalk of berries.

  12. That looks like a beautiful area, but those beavers sure are making a mess! Someone told me once that they’re not the brightest lumberers and if the tree falls in a way that’s hard to get at they just leave it and move on to the next tree. The opened up spots are perfect for a range of wildflowers and saplings so not all is lost!

  13. What a stunning place to just get lost! And how wonderful that you were there with your family to just take in all of this beauty! Awesome photos Jason! I can’t get over how many trees were cut down by those furry guys! Wishing you a great week! Nicole

  14. It seems important to speak up for the beaver. It’s a keystone species, which means that without it, entire ecosystems vanish. It once had a population unimaginable today, like the buffalo. But unlike the buffalo, which so many agree are majestic, the beaver is a rodent and often regarded as a pest. I’ve seen the work of the beaver transform a nearly barren semi-arid valley into a verdant diverse wonder. Here’s a link that might help shed some appreciative light for you and your readers. http://www.apnm.org/campaigns/beavers/index.php

  15. It does seem weird that the beavers took down trees that weren’t used for a lodge but they keep the canopy open, which allows other trees and plants to thrive. I’ve never been to Wisconsin but it looks beautiful.

  16. Interesting trip you had Jason!
    I’ve seen beavers once and thought they did what job, damaging trees and making dam as a result the water level goes high. I did not know that the hunting is allowed in Wisconsin now. Are really too many wild animals there?

  17. I didn’t realise beavers did that kind of damage to woodlands, all part of natures grand plan I suppose. It looks like a great place for a hike though, glad you enjoyed it.

  18. What a lovely place for a hike! I had no idea that beavers would fell trees in the middle of the woods like this. Perhaps it’s Nature’s way of thinning out the forest.

  19. That looks like an interesting place for a hike. The meadow has interesting plants, I see a lot of goldenrod. I just added some to my garden last year so it is blooming now, there are not a lot of other flowers blooming so that is good for the pollinators.

  20. Hello Jason, with all that moss and fungi it looks like a well-rained part of the world. I can’t believe the size of some of the trees that the beavers had felled. I wonder if they have their own style of woodland management that we simply haven’t figured out or understood yet?

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