American Times Washington: Beavers captured in Battle of Potomac blossom Warning to capital's beavers: it's a trap

COMMUNING WITH nature American-style can entail extraordinarily complicated preparation. The higher up the income scale you go, the more special clothing and equipment you are deemed to need, supplied with outdoorsy over-enthusiasm by the vast emporiums that have beaten the track from the country's most venerated outdoors shop, LL Bean. These trendiest of purveyors delight in kitting you out as if to explore the Amazon, when what you had in mind was nothing more strenuous than a spot of birdwatching in the Virginia woods.

Increasingly, though, you seem not to have to go as far as Virginia in pursuit of the American wilds - and you certainly don't need that extra-light, all-weather jacket and matching magenta wetsuit. I have seen more deer on the verges of the Washington suburbs from the comfort of my car than I ever encountered in the countryside.

Wildlife is encroaching even on New York. Just a week or so ago, a wandering coyote was apprehended in Central Park. It was shot (with an anaesthetising dart, the police hastened to add), and caged for dispatch to a more conventional habitat "up-state". In Washington last week, a red-tailed hawk made news by swooping on to the White House lawn to feast on a presidential duck. Public sympathy for the savagely dissected duck, however, was muted by the relative rarity of the hawk: live and let die, said Washington coolly, as it girded for war across the ocean.

That, however, was before the beavers. To understand the fuss about the beavers, you need to know two things. Washington does not have many sources of civic pride, but it affects a communal swoon over the hundreds of Japanese cherry trees that bloom along the tidal basin of the Potomac River at this time of year. And while hawks and ducks and deer may be two a penny in the capital, it is not every day you see a beaver.

So it was with shocked incredulity that the park service admitted last week that four of the sacred cherries had been cruelly felled. Smashed to the ground, heavy with pink blossom, they looked like ravished May queens, and the city was out for vengeance. With the most celebrated chopper of cherry trees, George Washington, long gone, suspicion alighted on two enemies of the moment: anti-war protesters and - perish the thought - disgruntled Serbs. Small matter that neither had been much in evidence before then.

Expert examination, however, turned up not axe marks, but tooth marks. The culprit was a beaver. Whereupon everything changed. In Beaver v Cherry Trees, this city of lawyers was split evenly. It was "save our beavers" against "save our trees" - causes equal in environmental merit, but fundamentally incompatible. The National Park Service had the unenviable task of "doing something". It set off "slow and easy" (its words) on a twin-track policy of prevention. Vulnerable trees were encased in netting, and a $1,500 (pounds 940) contract was put out on the beaver: the trappers were called in.

On night two of their patrol, a spectacular success: they had their beaver - alive. But before they could claim their bounty, word came from a chastened park service: "We believe there are now two beavers. We have had sightings." On Saturday night, moonlit blossom-strollers (their ranks now swelled with beaver-watchers and television crews) witnessed the capture of a second "furry critter" or "tree-murderer" (depending on your point of view). By Monday, though, there was talk of a third beaver; perhaps a whole family.

By now, the park service - its phone lines jammed by callers appealing for the beavers to be spared - was having to watch its language. With a real war never far away, any hint of deportation, still less species- cleansing, was off-limits. Everyone did their best.

The traps were the most humane on the market; a Pennsylvania couple offered the vacant pond on their estate, but the park service said that as celebrities, the beavers deserved to have their new address kept private.

One woman even described the beaver as a "true follower of the American Dream. He should be allowed to build again," she wrote to The Washington Post, "revel in his success and be proud of the beaver that he can become; because this is America." To which there is surely only one response: "Bravo! Bravo! God bless the Beaver - and God bless America!"

Mary Dejevsky

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Electronic Service Engineer - Television & HI-FI

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Engineers for field & bench ser...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer - Award Winning Agency

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager

£35000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global provider of call ce...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service and Business Support Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: By developing intimate relationships with inte...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada