Torrential rains during June caused beavers to move from their normal habitats to seek new food and building materials, and Mississippi State researchers advise checking timberlands for damage now that rains have subsided.
Scientists at MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center note that because of their aquatic nature, flat-tailed, sharp-toothed beavers require a habitat close to waterways.
"Most beaver-related damage reported in the Southeast is caused when beavers impound water in forested areas,” said Dale Arner, professor emeritus in the department of wildlife and fisheries. "Substantial beaver damage also occurs when beavers travel through flooded areas in search of wood for food and construction,” he added.
Fortunately, beavers have a taste for trees that typically are non-commercial: sweetgum, sugarberry and green ash. But Arner said they also will feast on marketable pine and oak species, usually preferring standing timber to felled trees.
"Beavers will pick trees less than 15 inches in diameter and cut out a section about the size of a pie plate,” Arner said. "Once sampled by beavers, the trees are susceptible to numerous insects and fungi,” he added.
Statewide, Mississippi landowners suffer more economic loss in stands of loblolly pine and sweetgum than in any other species damaged by beaver. In fact, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reports that beavers are responsible for water impoundment destruction and direct timber losses of $38 million annually in the state.
With millions of acres in Mississippi forestlands susceptible to beaver attack, landowners should take note and examine their trees as soon as possible, MSU experts say.
"If landowners find trees damaged by beavers, the best approach is to cut the tree and salvage the timber,” said Bruce Leopold, wildlife and fisheries department head.
To control future damage by beavers in timberlands, Leopold suggests installing fences and barriers around trees and painting trees with a sand and paint mixture that discourages beavers from chewing the trees.
For professional assistance with beaver control issues, Leopold recommends contacting the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Starkville by telephoning (662) 325-3014. A professional forester can advise about salvaging beaver-damaged timber.
For more information about beavers, telephone Dr. Leopold at 662-325-2615.