Get that beaver a Super Volunteer T-shirt!

Thank you, beaver!

FMR ecologists were surprised to find that many of the trees we'd planned to remove at a North Minneapolis riverfront restoration site were taken care of by an anonymous, furry volunteer. (Photo courtesy Mississippi State Extension office as we were unable to catch her or him in the act.)

As with many projects, the bulk of the work in an ecological restoration often lies in the planning process. Long before the professional and volunteer restoration crews come in, FMR ecologists have spent countless hours identifying "target plant communities" and creating task lists, cost estimates and timetables.

But Mother Nature tends to ignore our spreadsheets, throwing unexpected weather and other changes our way. Normally, this leads to delays. But on rare occasions, Mother Nature can work in your favor.

Since 2015, FMR ecologists, crews and volunteers have been restoring a 2-acre prairie along the banks of the Mississippi River at Orvin “Ole” Olson Park in north Minneapolis. In fall 2015, crews removed invasive species and prepped the soil. In 2016, crews seeded the site with a native prairie mix and volunteers installed a demonstration native prairie garden on its north end.

Things were going so smoothly we decided to expand the restoration south towards Broadway Bridge. FMR ecologists dove back into our planning — crafting budgets and timetables, completing grant applications. Little did we know, our first volunteer had already begun work. 

Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) blooms in the prairie at Ole Olson Park during the summer of 2016.

Guerilla volunteering

In early spring 2017, we visited Ole Olsen to see how the prairie was progressing. To our surprise, someone had already started clearing woody species in the expansion area!

Normally, we'd have an issue with folks taking out trees and shrubs on their own, but this particular someone was well-trained in the art of removal ... and judging by the stumps, they had massive incisors. 

A beaver had begun felling trees at the site, leaving only the stumps and small piles of wood shavings. Our well-laid plans had called for restoration crews to do this work in the fall. While we’ll still need a crew for remaining trees and stumps, the beaver has lessened the workload considerably!

These cost savings will go towards purchasing a more diverse prairie seed mix, or toward any unforeseen costs that might spring up. (Like other volunteers, the beaver helped us stretch our restoration budget.)

It’s just another example of how even the best-laid plans can be hindered (or helped!) by Mother Nature.

This winter the Ole Olson beaver was already making quick work of the many young trees in the prairie-to-be and continued clearing the expansion area into spring. 

Super Volunteer!

It’s hard to tell how many hours the beaver contributed to this restoration project, but we're guessing it's enough for a shiny new Super Volunteer T-shirt (equal to participating in four habitat restoration events or contributing 20 hours in-office)!

If you happen to run into the little furball, feel free to mention that FMR has a full slate of volunteer events this year if it needs a couple more hours. 

While beavers probably don’t get good wifi in their lodges, you can find all our upcoming volunteer opportunities on the FMR events calendar. Or contact FMR Volunteer Coordinator Amy Kilgore at akilgore@fmr.org if you'd like to help build on the beaver's work at the next Ole Olson event or pitch in at other FMR restoration sites.