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American Beaver

American Beaver, Duck Bay, Arboretum, Seattle, Washington, US. Credit: Roddy Scheer.

It may be surprising to some that a big city like Seattle could host a healthy population of wild beavers. But indeed it’s true — North America’s largest living rodents love the freshwater and shoreline access all around Seattle, and they have been living here at least since the end of the last ice age. And of course there’s no better way to see them going about their business than from the seat of a kayak on Seattle’s inland waterways.

In fact, the dock at Agua Verde Paddle Club is just a few paddle strokes away from one of the most active beaver colonies for miles around on the south side of Portage Bay underneath the onramp to State Route 520. The best time to see these beavers tending to their lodge — they gather sticks and logs from downed trees they find on their patrols around the edges of their watery neighborhood — is late afternoon or early evening.

If you paddle over that way, you’ll know the lodge when you see it, and if you sit still for a few minutes one of its residents might come peeking out. If you’re too close, the beaver will let you know by flapping its tail and making a big splash in the water to ward you off.  Like with any wild animals, give them some distance and always remember to respect their space given that you are the one intruding on their home terrain. Causing them extra stress by getting too close doesn’t help species already on the ropes thanks to rampant development, pollution and now global warming all wrought by humans.

While some shoreline homeowners aren’t crazy about having wild beavers as neighbors or squatters, the animals’ presence here in the Emerald City still, despite the habitat loss and other environmental monkey wrenches we have thrown their way, is a blessing all around. They increase biodiversity and improve salmon habitat, and their building practices and ponds help improve water quality. In fact, these big rodents are considered a “keystone species” — a term coined by the late great University of Washington ecology prof Bob Paine — because their work to shape their ecosystem creates wetlands habitat where many other types of species can thrive.

If you can’t get to Agua Verde to see a beaver, try somewhere else closer to home. The non-profit Beavers Northwest maintains a customized Google Map detailing the location of more than a dozen different beaver colonies all around the Seattle metro area