Photo Information

Beavers are members of the rodent family and have large, strong teeth for gnawing through wood, as can be seen in this photograph of a beaver skull in the Fish and Wildlife and Agronomy Program office aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Photo by Eve A. Baker

More than 500 beavers call Quantico ‘home’

12 Dec 2014 | Eve A. Baker Marine Corps Base Quantico

In addition to hosting thousands of service members and their dependents, Marine Corps Base Quantico is also home to dozens of species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, including Castor canadensis, the North American beaver. Documents from Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Branch reveal that approximately 3,000 of the base’s 59,000 acres are forested wetlands, which make ideal beaver territory.

Beaver population surveys conducted about every four years since 1991 have usually counted from 100-120 beaver colonies aboard the base, according to Natural Resources Manager Tim Stamps. Stamps said a colony consists of a monogamous pair of adult beavers, an average of three kits, and one to two yearlings, and that beavers will leave the colony to search for a mate of their own at two years in age.

He also said the most recent survey in 2013 found only 48 beaver colonies. He is uncertain whether this lower count was due to an actual population decline or if the survey missed some colonies. Future surveys will try to determine if the population has returned to its normal level or if indeed there has been a decline in numbers of colonies. 

Beaver pairs mate for life, and according to National Geographic, they can live for up to 24 years in the wild, reach lengths of 30 to 51 inches, and weigh up to 60 pounds. Beavers are rodents and have large front teeth designed for gnawing through wood.

John Rohm, head of the Fish and Wildlife and Agronomy Program aboard MCBQ said that beavers are herbivores that get all the nutrients they need from wood bark and the cambium layer underneath the bark. Stamps said their food of choice is the bark from red maple and sweet gum trees.

In addition to eating the wood, beavers build their lodges of sticks and mud and typically in a river or pond. The lodges have an underwater entrance but a dry central area so the beavers can come out of the water, Stamps said. At this time of year, beavers are actively gathering sticks and logs and storing them underwater near lodges to have a food supply throughout the winter in case the surface of the water freezes over.

Further, beavers do not simply use the trees for food and home-building, they also use them to create dams. Beavers build dams in order to flood the landscape and create large ponds, as ponds are their preferred habitat and keep them safer from predators such as coyotes.

According to Rohm and Stamps, beavers’ dam-building action not only benefits the beavers themselves, it also creates habitat for creatures such as waterfowl, river otters and amphibians. Stamps said beavers are “good engineers. With just sticks and mud they can make a strong structure.” In the words of National Geographic, “Beavers are second only to humans in their ability to manipulate and change their environment.”

Occasionally beaver activity will conflict with human interests and cause problems for base residents. The most common effect is road flooding, as beavers will often build damns around culverts, inhibiting drainage, thereby directing water onto the road, said Stamps. While Stamps has aided in the construction of a few beaver-proof culverts, he said it is a very challenging and time-consuming project that cannot actually be carried out on certain styles of culverts.

Beaver activity has also affected training at Officer Candidate School and The Basic School in the past, with beaver dams causing flooding on the night compass course and the Quigley obstacle, Stamps said. In his 32 years of employment with NREA Branch, Stamps said he has never heard of a beaver felling a tree onto a car or building, though beavers are currently very active near Training Command buildings and parking lots along Louis Road, and the small colony located there is in the process of being controlled.

For individuals interested in seeing a beaver lodge in person, there is currently a large one located in Chopawamsic Creek, directly across the street from the Marsh Building, 3280 Russell Road. As parking is very limited there, wildlife enthusiasts are encouraged to park at the wildlife viewing area further south along Russell Road and walk a couple hundred meters along the North Bank trail to view the lodge.


Marine Corps Base Quantico