GREAT BEAVER WAR
March 4, 2001 "VOICES" Column for
THE DENVER POST
by Dan Simmons
"Oh, wow, we have beaver living on the property,"
I said six years ago when we bought Windwalker, a
mountain cabin with 118 acres surrounded by national
forest near Allenspark. "Neat!"
Within a year I would be stalking the creatures through
the night with a .410-gauge shotgun, twitching and
muttering to myself.
Before sending those letters, please understand that
if I am any sort of "ist," it is conservationist.
For more than a dozen years I taught sixth-graders
environmental science at Eco-Week at Camp St. Malo
just down the road from Windwalker, preaching the
importance of ecological succession, emphasizing the
beavers' role in the scheme of things. I owned two
– not one, but two -- copies of Enos Mills's
In Beaver World.
But these . . . these damned DNA-driven destruction
machines . . . were eating my trees.
riparian system consisted of two man-made ponds connected
by three-quarters of a mile of meandering stream.
The beaver had laid claim to the lower end of the
valley, turning it into something resembling the Somme
battlefield. Fine, I thought, live and let live. They
could keep the lower third of the valley; I would
enjoy the rest.
They headed upstream within a month of my moving
While the younger beavers were surveying the upper
valley, the old-timers clogged up the culvert in the
lower pond, causing the dam to give way and doing
more than $7,000 worth of damage. While I was bulldozing
the dam back in place and adding a spillway, the younger
beavers were working double shifts upstream. The previous
owners had built a kids' play fort almost as large
as the real thing – lodgepole-pine palisades,
parapets, a tower, even a drawbridge to lower across
the stream. The beavers flooded the fort and within
months it toppled into the new pond they were backing
For a year I worked at tearing out their dams on
the meandering stream. Ever try to tear out a beaver
dam by hand? If we built our overseas embassies that
soundly, terrorists wouldn't have a chance. After
months of work, I got suspicious, hacked my way upstream,
and found that their lower dams had been a diversion:
the beaver had constructed a dozen step-dams hidden
in the thick willows, flooding the upper valley.
I tried fencing trees. I tried the Forest Service.
I tried professional beaver trappers. I tried Raoul
The beavers cut down two aspen for every one I fenced.
The Forest Service tut-tutted. The professional beaver
trappers had found religion and gave me a third copy
of In Beaver World and a lecture on the joys of co-existence.
Raoul Mitgang . . . well, we won't go into that.
The last straw came one August day when I drove my
Jeep down the valley with a new load of tree-fencing
only to find that the beaver had dropped two large
aspen across the jeep track – trees a quarter
of a mile from their pond and work area, fallen trees
that had one purpose and one purpose only –
to stop me from fencing more trees.
So that night I found myself stalking the beaver
with the shotgun I had owned since I was a kid. Just
to scare them, I assured myself. Uh-huh.
Every evening after sunset, the beavers boil out
of their lodge and work for hours. Not that evening.
Nothing. Nada. Nary a flat tail nor furry rodent skull
in sight. Around midnight, I broke the shotgun and
descended the steep hill in the dark, crossing a meadow
of high grass to get a better vantage point. And that's
when I realized that I was being stalked.
The thing was behind me in the tall grass and its
eyes were four feet off the ground and green in the
starlight. The shadow watched me a moment and then
jumped fifteen feet across the creek and disappeared.
"Mountain lion poking around," the old-timers
at the Hummingbird Café said the next day.
I knew better. I'd escalated the war. The beaver had
called in reinforcements.
Five years later and the beavers and I have come
to an understanding: they win. The valley's flooded,
the trees are gone, the fort's tumbled, and the meandering
stream doesn't meander.
"They can't hurt me any more," I say to
myself. But at night, in my cabin four hundred feet
up the hillside, in my cabin cantilevered out over
the cliff and supported by stout wooden columns, I
lie awake. Listening.
The gnawing. The gnawing.