The Rouse Co. built Columbia as a suburban utopia, complete with manufactured lakes and scenic pathways. Now some residents are concerned that a different kind of master builder is chopping away at its beauty.
A pair of beavers -- those four-legged, furry builders with chisel-like teeth and webbed hind feet -- are gnawing and felling saplings and other trees along the picturesque Lake Elkhorn in Columbia's Village of Owen Brown.
That activity concerns longtime Lake Elkhorn walkers William Ewart and Norman La Cholter, both of Oakland Mills.
"They are doing some very ambitious chewing on some rather large trees and small saplings," said Mr. Ewart, who has counted 79 gnawed trees along the lake.
Concerned about large trees disappearing from around the 37-acre lake and the potential for damage to nearby homes, he called the Columbia Association [CA] about a week ago to alert officials about his observation. "They said I had to call the Owen Brown village to see if they wanted to do anything."
Ruth Bose, Owen Brown's village manager, said his call is the only complaint. She said the village board will discuss the situation at its meeting Tuesday. "We will not make requests of CA until after the meeting," she said.
Apparently, word spread about Mr. Ewart's call, triggering four callers to voice support for the beavers. "So far, the beavers are winning 4-to-1," Ms. Bose said Tuesday.
Charles "Chic" Rhodehamel, the association's assistant director of open space maintenance, said the two beavers really aren't problems.
"It's not out of control. It's normal beaver behavior," he said, adding beavers have been in Lake Elkhorn on and off for about 10 years and in Columbia for about 15 years.
It was nearly five years ago when beavers built dams and lodges in Dorsey Hall, causing residents to worry about flooding and sliding property value, said Philip Norman, open space coordinator for county recreation and parks.
The county relocated the animals and installed devices to control the water level.
Experts say the nocturnal critters are popping up across the state and the East Coast.
"Beavers are common in every county of the state and the population is rapidly increasing," said Robert Colona, a furbearer project manager for the wildlife division of the Department of Natural Resources. He said it's almost impossible to determine the exact number of beavers in Columbia and Maryland. "Anyone who gives you numbers is lying to you," he said.
Because it is nearing springtime, his department is getting lots of complaints, triggered by activity of the young from last year who were kicked out of their lodges. Besides chewing on trees, the mammals build dams that can sometimes flood streams.
"Beavers are neat animals, they can modify habitats," Mr. Colona said. "That's good and bad."
Attracted to the water, beavers enhance living conditions for fish and waterfowl. "The problems come around when they come into contact with humans," he said.
The beaver population began to grow in Maryland in the early 1960s. "They were limited to just Garrett County and the wildlife division started relocating them further east," Mr. Colona said. Beavers enter different counties by following different streams and rivers, including the Patuxent and Patapsco drainage systems.
Averaging between 20 to 40 pounds, they gravitate toward the water to get food and build lodges. They can stay in one area between six months to six years, depending on their food supply, Mr. Colona said.