Published on July 18, 2019

How Beavers Made a Comeback at Pleasant Valley

Beavers in North Pond at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (Photo: Bill Bernbeck)

During his first year as Sanctuary Director in 1932, Morris Pell set out to increase the wildlife visiting and inhabiting the area by creating more water habitats on the sanctuary. He did so by introducing a species that had been extirpated from Massachusetts since the late 1700's—beavers.

The OB's (Original Beavers)

The three beavers Pell selected for the job—Paul Bunyon, Paula Bunyon, and Big Swede—had been captured near Bear Mountain Trailside Museum in New York's Palisades Interstate Park. The trio was transported to Pleasant Valley and introduce into the sanctuary in October 1932. They were enclosed in beaver-proof pen and quickly got to work building their first dam.

Paul and Paula immediately became mates. But after a month of loneliness, Big Swede escaped to find a partner of his own. He occasionally returned to visit the sanctuary, and in late 1933 he found Paula alone after Paul had died of serious back injuries. The two then became a pair, and successfully raised three kits in 1934.

After a more than 200-year absence in Massachusetts, beavers had spread throughout Berkshire County by 1935. "They have surpassed all expectations in building a dam," Pell claimed. "And their ventures proved to be the chief drawing card of the sanctuary during my entire stay there."

Still Hard at Work Today

Beaver on felled tree at PV © Ed Anzures
© Ed Anzures

These industrious mammals have been increasing and modifying the flow of Yokun Brook ever since their reintroduction more than 80 years ago. We have beavers to thank for creating the series of wetlands that draw so many visitors to the sanctuary today. If you visit around dawn and dusk, you can see these busy, crepuscular creatures in action!

During a recent Evening at the Beaver Ponds program, naturalist Bill Bernbeck took the group directly to the North Pond. "There were three beavers swimming around the middle of the pond,' he said. "And we were saluted four times with booming tail slaps."

According to Bernbeck, the activity looked like the beavers were involved in dam upkeep. "All three would cruise out 20 or so yards from the dam, dive, and emerge facing back to the dam. They would then cruise to the dam embankment, move partially up the bank, and then head back into the pond to repeat the process."

"I surmise they were depositing mud under the water, since we could not see them actually bring mud to the surface," he said. "Normally they will tuck a large glob of it between their chin and forearms and bring it to the dam to be packed in crevices."

See for Yourself!

Pleasant Valley's Evening at the Beaver Ponds program runs weekly through October.

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