The Chapa Spirit an Ecosystem Engineer

he was happily sitting back and munching on so...

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Native to North America, the beaver, Castor canadensis, plays an important role in both the formation of our environment and faith formation. The Chapa Spirit, or beaver, is prevalent in Native American legends as the guardian of work and building, food stores, marital fidelity, and domestic tranquility as well as symbolic of the qualities of vigilance, self-sacrifice, and community. Recently, representation of the beaver’s qualities of self-sacrifice and hard work can be seen in the movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is here, in Narnia, that Mr. and Mrs. Beaver take Edmund, Lucy, Peter, and Susan to Aslan in order to fulfill the ancient prophecy, ending the White Witch’s evil, which consequently brings the environment back in sync. The beaver’s selfless actions symbolize a change in both the spiritual and natural environment of Narnia.

Bull Creek Beaver Dam

Here in Bull Creek, our neighbors, the beavers, inhabitants of mixed forest riparian areas, represent positive environmental change. The beavers’ environmental engineering constructs dams, providing a natural creation of wetlands and watersheds. The formation of wetlands and watersheds also provide a means of ground water recharge and purification as well as water table elevation and flood mitigation. Water table elevation and flood reduction are a direct result of increased ground water holding capacity and drainage by the newly, beaver created wetlands and watersheds. The beaver dams also reduce both stream bank erosion and sediment in the adjacent streams and rivers. Less erosion provides a better environment for the fauna by producing a more stable and healthier water supply.

Beaver Fell

These ecosystem engineers and their dams also have a profound affect on the biodiversity and overall quality of an ecosystem through the creation of lakes, ponds, wetlands, and meadows. When beavers build dams, their actions alter the environment by transforming living and nonliving materials from one physical state to another. Beavers change the physical environment by felling softer wood trees species, such as cottonwoods, over harder wood type trees to build their dams. Dam building in streams causes flooding of the surrounding land and the resultant pond formation provides a suitable environment for the beavers to build their lodges. Naturalists consider beavers to be the “key to wildlife abundance” in wetland habitats.

Beaver Lodge on Frozen Pond

As beavers clear the trees along the water’s edge, new habitats are created where grasses, shrubs, and hardier trees flourish providing nesting and breeding grounds favorable to waterfowl. As new habitats are created by the beaver’s selective tree felling the tree species reduction produces both beneficial and non-beneficial effects on the surrounding riparian forest. Despite the possible negative effect on the riparian forest, active beaver ponds create ecosystems with the ability to support a greater variety of birds and naturalists report greater diversity in the populations of insects, amphibians, reptiles, and predatory mammals.

Beavers are nocturnal, herbivorous eating mammals whose diet consists of bark, cambium, tree buds and roots. They have disproportionately large skull and teeth that enable them to gnaw through bark and trees. At a length of three to four feet and a weight of between 30 and 75 pounds, the stocky beaver’s short legs, wide tail, and webbed hind feet enable this primarily, aquatic rodent to maneuver felled trees and swim effortlessly in the ponds or lakes it creates. Adapted for digging and grasping tree limbs, they have strong claws on their front feet. Its fur is a waterproof, glossy red brown color and its broad, flat tail is covered with black scales. Beavers live in a colony of four to eight related individuals with a home range of about 8 acres. They are also monogamous, mating once a year to produce a litter of 3 to five pups in spring from April to June. Habitat suitability is dependent on water and the availability of aspen trees, their preferred food. These large rodents live an average of 6-11 years in wild.

The beaver’s current conservation status differs from source to source; currently, they are not considered an endangered species. That being said, there have been significant threats to the survival of the beaver in their original habitats due to hunting and trapping. The survival of the beaver has also been affected by pollution and habitat loss. Successful beaver reintroduction in the last century has returned to many them to their former habitats.

Ecologists and economists have determined that freshwater wetlands are the world’s most valuable terrestrial ecosystem in terms of natural resources and beaver’s play a crucial role in changing the quality of the wetlands ecosystem here in Bull Creek and Libertyville Township. They are key players in the aquatic ecosystem and neighboring riparian forests they inhabit. The wetlands formed by beavers change the water movement and the woodland environment and the resulting wetland formation increases the biodiversity of both flora and fauna in the ecosystem. These self-sacrificing, ecological engineers are working hard to transform the environment and create a better community for us to inhabit. The beavers are Bull Creek’s symbol of renewal.


Anderson, R. “Castor canadensis”, Animal Diversity, University of Michigan, 2002. Web.  30 Jan. 2012.

“Beaver: Castor candensis”, NatureWorks, New Hampshire Public Television and  Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, N.D. Web. 30 Jan. 2012.

“The Beaver”, Beavers: Wetlands and Wildlife. N.P. 2002. Web. 30 Jan. 2012.

Naiman, R.F., C.A. Johnston, J.C. Kelley.  “Alteration of North American Streams by Beaver.” BioScience. 1988.38: 753-762.

Grannes, Steven.”Beaver Dam Information Site”, 18 Sept. 2008. Web. 29 Jan 2012.

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  1. bernadette

     /  February 5, 2012

    Simply wonderful! You are a treasure and so is this this blog. Thanks for the information. I admire your passion.

  1. Tracks « Once A River

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