When I was a kid, and even well into my adulthood for that matter, beavers were virtually unheard of in Niagara County. Stragglers were occasionally seen in Lake Ontario or in the quiet waters of Red Creek, but their sightings were few and far between.
That all changed approximately 10 years ago. Since then, beavers have
substantially increased their population in the county. Although they
could still be considered quite uncommon, they are no longer rare, and
an active outdoorsperson has a fair chance of seeing one of these giant
rodents and a very good chance of seeing their handiwork.
Why there are more beavers
Beaver numbers are up in Niagara County for three reasons:
One, beavers aren’t trapped for their furs like they once were. The
number of trappers has declined significantly in New York State since
the 1970s. There are less young people taking to trapping and the
society’s missives against the fur trade have really lessened the demand
for quality furs. Beavers have especially lagged; the demand is not
there for their pelts. Almost inflation-proof, today’s beaver prices
aren’t too far off from where they in the early-1990s. Beavers weren’t
really trapped in Niagara County anyway, but as their harvests declined
in other parts of Western New York, their already-healthy populations
grew and their range expanded (to us).
Two, there are less family farms. As the number of family farms has
dwindled dramatically over the past 50 years in Niagara County, that has
changed the landscape. Any of those properties that weren’t sold to
larger farms have reverted or have begun to revert to forests. There are
far more trees in Niagara County now than there were 100 years ago.
That means more food, protection and building supplies for the beavers
as huge sections of our streams are now tree-lined.
Three, ponds are now the “in” thing. More and more property owners are
building ponds, either for landscaping, wildlife management, or fishing.
They now dot the landscape and afford beavers new homes or stepping
stones as they travel from water body to water body in search of a
Why there will never be a lot of beavers
Despite the growth in numbers, there will never be a lot of beavers in
Eastern Niagara County because of our poor drainage -- an outcome of our
relatively flat topography.
In other areas of Western New York, like the foothills of the Allegheny
Mountains, water moves out in a hurry after winter thaws or big rain
storms. In places like those, beavers can build their dams and lodges
with no real threat of them being destroyed by floods.
Not here. As anyone who lives near Red Creek and Eighteenmile Creek or
any one of their feeder streams can attest to, our creeks can get REALLY
high and fast for long periods of time. It’s not uncommon for them to
be well over their banks and into floodplains that are many acres in
That makes it impossible for beavers to make a home with any real future
in our area. Their dams could be washed away once or twice a year.
How to identify a beaver
Some folks may think they have beavers in their ponds or creeks, but
they are probably muskrats, which are incredibly abundant. Muskrats look
like miniature beavers and have a rat-like tail (hence the name)
instead of the beaver’s tell-tale flat tail.
After taking into consideration their size, beavers can’t be confused with muskrats. Muskrats are wee
little things, their bodies about 10 to 12 inches long. Beavers, on the
other hand, can be 30 inches long (not counting the tail.)
Where a fat muskrat might weigh in at 3 or 4 pounds, a typical adult
beaver will weigh in excess of 30 pounds. Real porkers topping the
scales at over 50 pounds are fairly common elsewhere.
Muskrats make lodges but they are nothing like beaver lodges. Muskrats
make theirs out of the leaves and stalks of cattails and reeds. Beavers,
as you know, make their lodges out of trees.
Where to find them
You might see a beaver in the Erie Canal, but he’s just a wanderer
trying to get someplace else. Instead, look for them in natural bodies
of flowing water.
Red Creek and Eighteenmile Creek have fair numbers of beavers
throughout. It should be noted, though, that there are few or no beavers
below the Burt Dam due to the amount of boat traffic.
TwelveMile Creek has some beavers in its waters. A few years back one of
the poor souls tried to cross Route 104 next to that creek and was
struck and killed by a car.
I cannot claim to know how many exist on Johnson’s Creek, but the conditions should allow it.
Golden Hill Creek has a few. If you really want to see at least the evidence of a beaver, head to the end of that creek.
The Golden Hill State Park boat launch area has free access (unlike the
main portion of the park) and if you hike some of the trails there you
can see the damage done to trees along that creek by a resident If you
take the easternmost trails there, those that head along the lakeshore
to the eastern border of the park, you will see many trees atop that
bluff that were girdled or taken down by the beaver (or beavers).
If you are there on a quiet day with few boats heading in and out of the
launch, there’s a chance you might see a beaver in the creek or out in
the open waters of the lake.
Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport where he welcomes beavers to the
neighborhood, even if it means a few trees coming down. Follow him on
Twitter @bobconfer or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
From the 11 December 2014 East Niagara Post