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Is 305 roadkill the last Bainbridge beaver?

Johannsen displays the beaver he found Saturday. The pelt was donated to IslandWood. - Courtesy of Neil Johannsen
Johannsen displays the beaver he found Saturday. The pelt was donated to IslandWood.
— image credit: Courtesy of Neil Johannsen

Islander Neil Johannsen was driving north on State Route 305 early Saturday morning when he was surprised to recognize the shape of a large animal sprawled on the road near Koura Road.

“I saw it was a beaver, and knowing quite a bit about wildlife on Bainbridge, I was astounded,” Johannsen said.

Shocked because Johannsen and others thought the beaver population on Bainbridge – a handful introduced to the Meigs Farm area – had died off years ago. Could the roadkill found by Johannsen, and now in the care of IslandWood, have been Bainbridge’s last specimen of Castor canadensis?

While Johannsen’s find created a buzz on the island this week, state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Greg Schirato said he’s confident that there are other beavers on Bainbridge. Schirato said the agency no longer keeps track of beaver populations, but he occasionally hears of beavers blocking city culverts or creating nuisances for residents.

Residents might not realize beaver populations are close by, Schirato said, because in Western Washington the animals tend to live in banks rather than dams, and have less impact on wetlands. Even if all the Bainbridge beavers disappeared, Schirato said it wouldn’t take long for the population to restock.

“They readily disperse,” Schirato said. “I’ve had them return six or eight miles from where I move them.”

According to longtime islander and former Meigs Farm owner Gale Cool, beavers were largely trapped out of existence on Bainbridge by the 1980s.

Cool introduced five to wetlands on Meigs Farmin the 1990s but the last of those beavers was thought to have died on SR-305 several years ago.

While the beaver found by Johannsen also met its end on the roadway, it will live on as an educational tool.

After first spotting the animal on the highway, Johannsen, who spent a long career working in public parks, decided to keep driving, knowing it was illegal to collect animal specimens without a permit. But when he returned to Bainbridge and saw the beaver still on the roadway, he decided he would risk breaking the law in the interest of preserving the animal.

“The beaver was in excellent condition, save for the fact that someone had run over its head,” Johannsen said. “Traffic was whizzing by and there I was carrying a 35-pound beaver down the road.”

Johannsen took the specimen home and decided it should be donated to a local school or museum.

After numerous calls to Fish and Wildlife and local organizations, he finally contacted with IslandWood, which has the proper permit to keep animal specimens. The outdoor education center plans to tan the beaver’s pelt and use it as a teaching aide.

Johannsen said the beaver might not be Bainbridge’s last, but he believes that he and other island naturalists would have noticed signs of beavers if there were more than just a few on the island.

“I continue to think they are very, very rare,” he said.

Have you seen a beaver or signs of a beaver on Bainbridge? Let us know in the comment section below

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