In the past month, a few dozen trees mysteriously disappeared from the back yards of houses in Burke Centre.

Other trees have been found gnawed at the bottom and abandoned, half-fallen, dangling tenuously from the brittle branches of fellow trees.

Finally, about 8:30 one recent Saturday night, a 40-foot tree crashed on the Gibson family's deck, a few inches shy of a sliding glass door. Butch Gibson, armed with a broom, ran out to confront the culprit.

It was a beaver.

"You would expect {the beaver} to run. But it didn't," Gibson's wife, Terry, recalled. The beaver "just looked at him like: 'Hey. This is my tree. Get away.' "

Such is the vexing nature of the problem that several beavers busy building a winter shelter in a nearby creek have posed to residents on Dundas Oak Court and Freds Oak Way in Burke Centre, a planned community of about 6,000 households that prides itself on its motto: "Nature and Community in Harmony."

What's a community to do when nature decides to follow a different rhythm?

Patricia Moore, executive director of the Burke Centre Conservancy, which maintains community-owned land, said the community tried to discourage the beavers early in the season by dismantling their lodges, spreading a chemical repellent around trees and wrapping trees with chicken wire.

But that didn't work. So the conservancy hired a private trapper, who killed two beavers in traps before angry, conservation-minded residents intervened.

The neighborhood since has become divided over what to do about the beavers, with those most concerned about the safety and welfare of the community on one side, and those most concerned about the safety and welfare of nature on the other.

"They haven't been the nuisance sewer rats would be," said Marty Murdock, who favors leaving the beavers alone. "Almost all the damage has not been on private property. It's been on open space. And as far as I'm concerned, that's what {open space} is there for." Murdock said she fears there may be only one beaver left.

With about 10 of the Gibsons' more than 50 trees gone or half-fallen, and with several more potential victims within striking distance of the second-story master bedroom, Terry Gibson said she wants the beavers removed. "We're concerned that some of these trees will fall down later and hit some child. That's why I'm so adamant. I want the beavers out of here."

At one point, the conservancy tried to get the county to trap the beavers and relocate them, but the county turned them down. A child or pet could get caught in the heavy traps, said Fairfax County Game Warden Barry Lape, and relocating a beaver at this time of year would virtually assure its death because it would not have enough time before winter to set up a new home or food supply.

Finally, late last week, about 25 neighborhood residents met with an elected representative of the conservancy board of trustees and struck a compromise. They decided to let the beavers go about their business until they hibernate, then relocate any survivors in the spring.

"We're not going to bother them. We're going to do everything we can to leave them alone," said Jack Nicklas, a member of the conservancy board. "They'll be moved to a place more than 30 miles from here. It's an undisclosed location, but a place where they could live."

In the meantime, even some of the residents hardest hit by the beavers' nocturnal calls have marveled at their handiwork. "They are hauling these big trees down the street two blocks . . . walking across the street and taking it to their dam," Terry Gibson said. "They're not taking the dinky, little trees. They take the big, strong ones."