|About the Site|
|Voyageurs National Park (7)|
Voyageurs National Park is rich in vegetation and animal life. The remote nature of the park is favorable for the survival and development of these natural features. In fact, there are approximately 275 bird and mammal species in the park at present.
Beavers If there is one animal which might be considered preeminent in the park it would be the beaver. It is the pelt of this animal which was responsible for the fur trade which attracted the trappers and the voyageurs themselves.
In the age of the fur trappers and the voyageurs the beaver was driven to near extinction, but since the establishment of the national park they have recovered and are present in substantial numbers in the park. There are approximately 2-3 beaver per square mile in the park. The beaver is protected by the coat and especially the dense, soft underfur, an adaptation to his aquatic environment.
The beaver is the second largest rodent in the word, behind only the south American capybara. An adult beaver measures up to 40 inches in length and may weigh as much as 60 pounds.
The beaver spends a great deal of time swimming just under the surface of the water. These animals have valves in the ears and nose which shut as the animal submerges, keeping water out of these channels. A transparent membrane shields the eyes. It is often hard to spot a beaver as it swims across a lake with only his head barely above the surface, as in the picture below.
It was the beaver's magnificent fur which made the fur trade possible. Hats made from beaver pelts were highly valued and fashionable in Europe between the 17th and 19th centuries, as they held their shape through rough wear and inclement weather. The beaver's fine underfur was separated from the rest of the pelt and flattened, made more stiff, and rolled into the prized felt hats. A single beaver provided enough fur to make 18 hats.
The fur trade eventually ended, due to a number of factors. Primarily, the felt hat went out of fashion in Europe, replaced by silk, reducing demand for the pelts. But also, the supply of beavers seriously dwindled, because of overtrapping. Additionally the movement of Indians onto reservations reduced the supply further, since they were a primary source of trapped beaver, and the financial panic of 1842 also had a negative effect.
The lips of the beaver also close behind the teeth. This allows the animal to carry branches in its mouth while it is swimming in the water. When handling branches, the beaver's upper teeth grip the wood while the lower teeth gnaw. The sight of a tree felled by a beaver and the trademark gnawed, pointed appearance of the remaining stump are a familiar sight in the park.
Beavers live in elaborate lodges which they build, and which can be seen in various locations in the park. The one below is along the shore of Kabetogama Lake. A beaver lodge is about 15 feet in diameter and about 6 feet high. There are entrances both above and below the water. These lodges are constructed of interwoven branches of trees felled by the animals and mud. A beaver lodge will house a mating pair, kids, and yearlings.
The beaver is an amazing animal, in many ways an environmental engineer. Through their work in felling trees, buildings dams and lodges, the beaver creates significant changes in the natural environment. It is estimated that beaver "engineering" has transformed some 13% of the land in the park. It is the front paws which are in many ways like hands, make possible the feats of complex construction.
An example of this transformation can be seen below. This large beaver pond is located near the access road to the Ash River Visitor Center.
The size of a beaver pond can be rather surprising, but necessary for the animal. Beavers must create ponds which are deep enough so that the lower portion of the pond does not freeze in the winter.
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- All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2012
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