Landowner Learns About Beaver Habitat Through Woods, Wildlife, and Warblers

It was 1967, another normal morning for 16-year-old John as he walked the four blocks to his high school bus stop, or so he thought. As John approached his stop, he noticed a new face, 15-year-old Bill. John introduced himself and they began to chat about their common interests. After a few weeks, this new face at the bus stop became one of John’s closest friends, but John never could have predicted the impact Bill would have on his life.

Throughout that year, John was invited to join Bill and his family at their 40-acre property in Wardsboro, Vermont. After several visits to Bill’s family property, John fell in love with the abundance of trees and wildlife and decided that he would one day own his own little piece of Wardsboro.

“I loved the crisp air out there in the fall, the green mountain foliage, the winter snow falls with quiet peacefulness, and the spring rebirth” John says. “And of course, all the wildlife—the deer, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, grouse.”

Years later, after completing medical school, John began a fulfilling career as a physician at  Rhode Island Hospital and found himself in a position to make his dream of owning land a reality. In 1998, John purchased 223 acres in his beloved Wardsboro. As John became acquainted with his land, he noticed the wildlife populations were barren compared to what he remembered in the ‘60s during his visits at Bill’s parents’ nearby property.

Determined to support a thriving wildlife population, John began actively working to improve habitat on his land. John had some basic knowledge of forestry, and knew to plant apple and crabapple trees, rye grass, rhubarb, blueberries and other mast shrubs throughout his property as wildlife food sources. He also cut fields and created edges and trails for wildlife habitat improvement. Throughout this time, he knew there was so much more he could do, but he needed some help.  

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Today, two acres of John’s property are home, once again, to returning beaver. According to a neighbor, in the early 1990s this thriving beaver population was evicted due to encroachment upon the adjacent main road. At that time, the beaver dams caused the main road to flood and the previous owners chose to use dynamite to remove the dams and stop the flooding, driving the beavers away.

Nearly 20 years after purchasing his land, John noticed new pools with dams and beaver homes throughout his wetlands and knew the beavers had returned. John was determined to maintain the beaver population, but he didn’t know how to support them while preventing flooding of the main road. In search of advice, he reached out to the local forestry department and was connected with beaver specialist Tyler Brown.

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Tyler was very knowledgeable on this type of situation and offered a suggestion. They constructed a baffle across the main beaver dam spanning the two largest ponds to maintain water levels and prevent flooding, and it worked! The beavers continued to flourish and thrive in the wetlands without causing the road to flood. Not long after, John was even able to catch native brook trout in his pond.

Around this time, John learned about the Woods, Wildlife and Warblers program - a partnership between the American Forest Foundation, the Vermont Tree Farm Committee, and Audubon Vermont - which focuses on connecting southern Vermont woodland owners with resources and professionals to help accomplish their goals for the land. Through the program, John was connected with a forester from Meadowsend Consulting Company, Jeremy Turner.

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During his visit to John’s land, Jeremy was also inspired by the diversity and beauty of the wetlands, and was excited to help John maintain this special habitat. Jeremy quickly recognized that the food source would not sustain the growing beaver population and suggested girdling some of the massive conifers surrounding the pond. This would allow sunlight to penetrate the canopy and encourage a greater diversity of young growth to regenerate and sustain the beavers for a longer period of time.  

Today, John and Jeremy are planning a long list of activities that will allow John to finally accomplish some of the many wildlife-related goals he has had for his property. Jeremy is preparing a forest management plan that will enable John to enroll in Vermont’s Current Use Tax Program, helping him save money while continuing to accomplish his goals for his land.

“All of the work I’ve done has been for habitat restoration, and through Woods, Wildlife, and Warblers I’ve connected with foresters who have helped me do even more,” John says.

Jeremy describes John as incredibly passionate about stewarding his land in the most responsible way possible. With Jeremy and Tyler’s continued help and expertise, John has been able to make his goals a reality and truly be an exemplary steward of his land.