Beavers were a hot commodity during the 17th century fur trade and drove the Minnesota economy for 200 years, being hunted nearly to extinction.
Fortunately, they're incredibly adaptable — and fertile. Weighing in between 35 to 55 pounds as adults (think midsize dog), beavers are the largest rodent in North America. Like other rodents, they breed early and often, with litters of as many as nine kits. They've rebounded to the point that hunters and trappers take more than 20,000 beavers a year without any risk to the overall population, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Beavers are, of course, best known for building dams and lodges on lakes, rivers and streams. The structures protect them from predators and keep them and their food stores warm during the winter. If the water in their territory isn't deep enough to prevent freezing, beavers construct a dam to make a pond that meets their needs. These can attract moose, deer, fish and amphibians, but can also bring them into conflict with humans, either by causing flooding or by destroying trees and other plant life.
If a beaver family takes up residence on your property, the DNR recommends a prevention and management approach. Try protecting trees with tall hardware cloth cylinders, or planting native evergreens such as common juniper, which beavers don't like. If they cause flooding or other damage, though, contact a local DNR office or look up the exact rules about beaver removal at dnr.state.mn.us.
Although they may be an annoyance, beavers are an important historical and ecological part of Minnesota. If you see a dam or hear the distinctive slap of their tail on the water, take the opportunity to observe these unique rodents from a respectful distance and appreciate their role in getting us to where we are today.