Water Closet for June 13, 2014
Red maple, swamp maple and Acer rubrum are all names of one species of tree frequently mentioned here in the Ipswich River Watershed and no doubt everywhere there are beavers drowning them. Up until Castor canadensis, beavers, returned after leg hold traps were banned, red maples dominated our wetlands. We have no scientifically gathered numbers, but some of us who have closely watched wetlands over the years suspect red maples may have declined by 80% since beavers resumed building dams here in the late 1990s. We know that in some once red maple swamps the decline has been close to 100% with only a few left around the edges of beaver flooded lowlands. From reading early colonists’ accounts and from speculations of later foresters and land change historians, we guess red maple populations might be down to what they were four centuries ago before the Indians trapped beavers for the pelt-hungry English and French newcomers. [pullquote]” They shot buffalos from trains like the so-called sportsmen who later shot wolves from planes. “[/pullquote] Those trading partnerships wiped out the land altering mammal here in less than a century.1
The next 300 years were sad times for the noble rodent with the wonderful coats, coats that were ignobly shaved, the hair chopped up and then pressed into felt for gentlemen’s hats; a frivolous industry if ever there was one. Fortunately for the continent’s surviving beavers and the rich habitats they form, fashions changed in the late 19th century. Can you imagine distant “fashion” practically extirpating a species and drastically changing the countryside? It of course has happened frequently. Herons, egrets, and other birds with fine feathers were slaughtered in great numbers for women’s hat decorations just over a century ago. The plucked carcasses not eaten were left to rot. Then there was the merino sheep craze in the 1840s. The price for that perceived fancy wool skyrocketed and then fell. By then millions of sheep raised on speculation had eaten what little was left on and around already cleared lands. To the west there were bison. Using the railroads, men with guns could get there quickly with little effort. They shot buffalos from trains like the so-called sportsmen who later shot wolves from planes. Many of the bison were shot for fashionable robes, which kept the body warm while riding in sleighs and carriages in winter. Naked corpses by the tens of thousands, once sustenance of the plains Indians, were left besides the tracks. Soon the bison, once numbering in the millions, were gone except for a few tiny herds. Farmers moved in and the roaming grazers’ flowering prairies were replaced with cattle and crops.
My how we have strayed out from under the pleasant shade of surviving red maples around lively water-covered beaver meadows to rail against the all too obvious fickleness and greed of people when it comes to other animals, land, water and air.
We digressed, and now return to red maples and beavers, so often our subjects over the years since the mammal’s return and the tree’s decline. The watery “beaver meadows” above the many dams are open to sun and rich in wildlife. The red maples on their perimeters put on quite a spectacle in late summer and early fall when they truly show their colors. Another name not included in the list above is “scarlet maple”.
Next time when going on about red maple we will stick to its properties, historical uses, botany, and aesthetics as we intended here until anger over environmental outrages got in the way. It was just last week here in the Closet we were telling how the late author Farley Mowat told us the Eskimos, whom he admired, considered showing anger the worst kind of behavior.2 But Mowat himself showed anger as other environmentalists often do too. Controlled anger can lead to positive action.
On our walks and drives around the watershed we are constantly reminded of Acer rubrum. Their dead gray trunks stand above hundreds of acres of drowned wetlands. More of these corpses fall each year, soon the open beaver meadows formed may resemble those here in the times when Indians managed the uplands with annual fires3 and Castor canadensis the low with their waterworks.
1 Dolan, Eric Jay. Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of Fur Trade in America
2 “Farley Joins His People Gone” , June 6,2014 Water Closet
3 “Seasonal Fires and Water”, May 30, 2014 Water Closet.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches
|2013 – 14 Central Watershed Actual
|0.8 as of 6/10**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate(S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For June 10, 2014: Normal . . . 33 CFS Current Rate . . . 22 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru May. Normalsdata is from the National Climatic Data Center.
**Updated June precipitation data is from MST gage..