Beavers are gnawing at the patience of city officials across North Texas.
Almost extinct after being heavily hunted and trapped for their pelts in the 1800s, beavers are making a comeback but are fighting for a place to live as the Metroplex becomes more urbanized.
From North Richland Hills to Colleyville to White Settlement, beavers and their sharp teeth are destroying trees in parks, golf courses and subdivisions, forcing cities to do everything from trapping them to building "beaver fences."
In Colleyville's tony Town Center development, beavers are living in a decorative pond and destroying trees. Developer Charles Hodges said beavers were also discovered in a pond at a development in Denton.
"Those guys need to be relocated to a happier place," Hodges said.
In White Settlement, beavers have destroyed mature trees near a pond in Veterans Park -- and it's not the first time, Parks Director Richard Tharp said.
This has forced the cash-strapped city, which doesn't want to be criticized for killing the beavers, to spend almost $1,000 to have them trapped and relocated.
"We don't have that many trees in the park as it is," Tharp said.
In Flower Mound, the busy critters built a 4-foot dam that is causing drainage problems for homeowners.
Five trees were damaged near the lakes in the Home Town NRH subdivision in North Richland Hills. Instead of trapping the animals, the city is protecting the trees from their teeth and claws by putting wire mesh around them.
"An animal unchecked can become a nuisance. Our natural areas are shrinking," said Adam Henry, a wildlife management biologist for the Texas Wildlife Services district office in Fort Worth.
Henry said the agency is swamped with requests for help in dealing with beavers and other problem animals, including coyotes and armadillos.
"I'm several months behind," he said, adding that March is one of his busiest months for trapping beavers.
'A feel-good solution'
Beavers are North America's largest rodents, averaging 4 feet long and 40 to 45 pounds. The mostly nocturnal animals swim using their webbed hind feet.
They use their flat tails for balance when they gnaw on trees and to warn of impending danger.
They rely on trees and other plants for food. They chew through the bark to eat the softer tissue underneath, are partial to willows and cottonwoods, and sometimes nibble on cattails, said Brett Johnson, an urban wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Although beavers almost went extinct, their population is on the rise. However, estimating their numbers in the area is difficult, said Billy Higginbotham, a wildlife specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
Besides damaging trees, beavers build dams that can cause flooding, dragging branches and other materials they find along the shore.
"If they hear water running, they try to stop it," Higginbotham said.
Johnson said he often recommends trapping and euthanizing the animals, calling relocation a temporary fix.
"Trapping and relocating animals is a feel-good solution for people," he said.
Beavers can also undermine flood control dams, which is a public hazard, Henry said.
Steve Martin, southwest regional manager for Trutech, a wildlife removal company, agrees that relocating the beavers is not a good idea. He added that beavers and other wild animals can spread diseases such as rabies to pets.
Warnings from biologists
While city officials and developers work hard to save their trees, wildlife rescue groups and urban biologists are worried that their efforts will have a permanent detrimental effect on the beaver population.
Trapping and moving the beavers will likely mean that they will die quickly because they are not familiar with the new pond or creek.
Bonnie Bradshaw, president of 911 Wildlife, said it is better to paint trees close to water with a mixture of shellac and sand, since beavers won't like ending up with a mouthful of sand.
Building a beaver fence, which involves wrapping trees with material that beavers can't chew through, is best for small trees. Devices that change the water flow to prevent beavers from building dams are also available.
Beavers add biodiversity to a pond, attracting different plants and songbirds, Bradshaw said. Their dams also benefit the environment because they create wetlands for other species and slow erosion.
"Beavers are fiercely territorial," she said. "They die from their injuries. Anybody who claims that they are doing the right thing by relocating these animals is not right."