Tree-Chomping Beaver May Have Cohort
By Linda Wheeler
Stephen and Urath Hall, of Arlington, and their son Peter know two beavers when they see them. They hailed two U.S. Park Police officers driving by and joined them on the bridge. All five stared at the two shiny black heads in the water. One officer shone his flashlight on the beavers, who chose to ignore him.
The Hall family stuck around for an hour, waiting to see what the police would do.
"They didn't have any traps," a disappointed Stephen Hall said. "They didn't do anything."
Washington was shaken a week ago with the first report of the brazen attack on the city's beloved cherry trees.
Then there were four more dead trees over the weekend, including some white cedars. The people in charge said a male beaver, working alone, had done it all. Then five more dead trees were found on Tuesday.
The Halls' discovery blew the one-beaver theory out of the water.
Yesterday, Park Service biology technician Julia Long, whose job has been to look for the victim trees, acknowledged the truth. "We believe now there are two beavers," she said. "We have had sightings."
Long doesn't show much excitement. She has had a week to contemplate the demise of the trees and the emergence of the beaver in the basin. The news of the second one doesn't ruffle her.
"We're taking this slow and easy," she said. "We are thinking about the best way to handle this."
The plan, she said, was to wrap the targeted trees in plastic or wire to discourage the beavers. Crews had been "working like gangbusters" to clothe every tree along the waterfront. She thinks they are doing a great job.
"No damage today," she said brightly. She hopes the rodent couple will simply move out now that their favorite food is harder to get.
But she is considering alternative action if the tree-chompers don't leave quietly. "I've been getting some guidance from some professionals who have been doing this for a long time," she said. By this, she means removing the beavers but in a humane way.
Army Col. Andrew Angelacci, of Fort Bragg, knows about traps; he's been a trapper for more than 20 years and would leave the service if he could make a living at it. Trapping beavers can be easy if they haven't learned to fear people or the smell of a metal trap.
"They learn to associate danger with a certain presence," he said. "If they have seen some dead comrades around or get caught and then escape, they will definitely stay away."
He said the Park Service has a good chance of collaring the suspects.
Last night, Park Service spokesman Earle Kittleman said Long's consideration had become a contract and a local company had been hired to get the beavers out of there for $1,500. However, the beavers have the weekend to pack up and depart on their own. The work won't start until Monday, he said.
Where will the beavers be taken?
"That hasn't been determined," Kittleman said gruffly.
Meantime, beavermania has struck Washington. On Wednesday night, as the Halls were making their discovery, Larry and Patty Raz were working the other side of the basin. They were there to see a beaver.
"I'm here to see how he's doing," Larry Raz said, as his eyes scanned the wide basin.
Patty Raz worried they may have come too early. "We're on the lookout. So far, no luck. If we didn't have day jobs, we'd think about staying out all night."
At 10 p.m., they saw it, and then saw it again 30 minutes later. "This is amazing, we went to see the thing and he's actually there," Patty Raz said. "We just saw its head and a little bit of the back."
The Raz family didn't know what the Halls knew.
Word of the second beaver had leaked out by yesterday morning. TV crews showed up, in hopes of getting pictures of the suspects. NBC's Willard Scott did a live report from the scene. Reporters swarmed around the scene, and tourists hoped for instant celebrity status by being the first to yell, "There they are."
Merri Goldberg, a Silver Spring psychotherapist, was among the sightseers yesterday. She had her own ideas about the sudden popularity of beavers.
"This gives people something to talk about. It's a problem that really isn't very dangerous compared to the other one that's out there," she said, adding that she and a friend had just canceled plans to spend a week in Istanbul.
Experts on beavers say the two in the basin are probably a mating pair. If so, there may be babies to follow soon.
Cathy Liss, the executive director of the Animal Welfare Institute, said a family in the basin may be the best thing to happen to Washington. The Institute encourages state and federal legislation to ban inhumane traps.
"We should greet and welcome them even if it means modifying our own behavior," she said. "Wrapping the trees would take a little time and effort, but it would save them."
And, she said, the tourists would love it.
"It would be all the nicer to have them present," she said. "What a great educational opportunity for the [Park Service's] public relations department."
Robert Colona, the state furbearer biologist for Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, has his doubts about the beavers leaving the trees alone.
"If an animal needs something, the only way you can prevent him from taking it is to remove him," he said. "Animals have to survive. . . . In winter, beavers feed exclusively on woody-type plants."
Staff writers Allan Lengel and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company