Beavers reclaim land in southeast Michigan

Over the past decade, beaver populations have returned to southeast Michigan in places such as Belle Isle, Stony Island, the Conner Creek Power Plant and other places along the Detroit River.

Why did beaver populations decline?

When settlers moved into metro Detroit, beaver trapping for the fur trade was plentiful, eliminating much of the population. The existence of this species was almost wiped out due to 300 years of trapping and trading. Along with trapping, industrialization and habitat loss pushed beavers out of the area and they were last reported in 1877 as a result, said Great Lakes Now.

When did beavers return to the area?

Beavers were first reported back in the area in 2008, according to Friends of the Rouge. For the first time in over 100 years, beavers gnawed away at trees and built damns near Conners Creek Power Plant. Since then, beaver sightings in the Detroit and Rouge Rivers aren't uncommon and continues to increase.

Why are they returning to the area?

According to Robert Burns, Detroit River Keeper with the Friends of Detroit River group, populations are increasing because areas are more habitable to the species.

“We’ve noticed in the last 10 to 15 years that there are more beavers starting to move to the area,” Burns said. “From a habitat perspective and an indicator perspective, it shows that things are changing in the river that are conducive for various populations to start to reform and increase.”

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Burns said beavers typically look for habitats that are secluded and accessible to water and food sources year-round, making spots along the Detroit River a now suitable home.

What are current population numbers in the area?

Zachary Cooley, the Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist for Wayne, Monroe, and Lenawee counties, said they use various reports to estimate the current beaver population.

“We don’t have population numbers exactly, but we have trapping survey reports and those combined with sighting reports and nuisance beaver reports, we can get a good picture of a healthy population that is slowly increasing,” he wrote to the Detroit Free Press.

Fox 2 said numbers increased in the three counties from 2006 to 2020. From 2006 to 2010, there were typically only 50 to 100 beavers reported each year. By 2020, numbers reached 325 yearly.

Are beavers good for urbanized areas?

The DNR has beavers categorized as nuisance wildlife due to damage caused in urban and industrialized areas. They often gnaw on trees and their damns cause flooding and problems for homeowners. The DNR does offer trapping services and permits for those impacted in certain areas.

Cooley wrote the DNR is given a difficult hand because they want beavers around but not at the expense of someone’s property.

“Beaver in residential areas typically lead to problems, it’s their nature to back up and flood a waterway to create a pond,” he wrote. “Up North or out in the country, they can do that and it doesn’t impact anyone, most people would never even know it happened. However, down here in southeast Michigan if they back up a drain or a river, it is eventually going to flood someone’s yard and possibly impact their house.”

Burns said the return of beavers is a matter of perspective as they can cause significant damage. However, their return shows improvements in terms of pollution, environment, and climate.

“As we see more of them, it just tells us that things are getting better,” he said. “The environment is conducive for both habitats and food sources for them to start repopulating.”

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Beavers in Metro Detroit are slowly increasing in number