'You can't imagine seeing somebody eat a tree in Seattle'

SEATTLE -- A popular Seattle neighborhood is finding it has become home to some uninvited guests.

Eastlake residents say at least one beaver has made a home along Fairview Avenue East, trampling the landscape, gnawing at large limbs, and reportedly even removing entire trees from houseboats.

"If you plant a tree close to the water, it's gone," said Bill Pearson, a former Eastlake resident who now helps with some of the community gardens here. "Little ones, tall ones - he comes and gets them. Past few weeks he's really hungry."

"I've heard he puts them underneath a houseboat and makes a nest," Pearson joked, laughing. "He's a squatter."

The Lake Washington water system, which includes Lake Union and other nearby canals and waterways, is home to thousands of urban beavers, said Sgt. Kim Chandler with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Given that the animals are nocturnal, most of them do their gnawing, slicing, and swimming once the sun goes down, he said.

"If (residents) have a problem and (the beavers are) eating either the ornamentals or it can get to the point where it is a public safety thing, they can contact nuisance wildlife folks," Chandler said. "They'll set traps and come out and remove them."

Some residents see the beavers' existence along Eastlake as a welcome sign of the area's restoration back to its native environment.

"They seem to have spread throughout the neighborhood," said Chris Lehman, president of the Eastlake Community Council. "As long as we're prepared for them, there's no reason to make them feel unwelcome."

Lehman says the community has worked for several years to put wire cages around the roots of shoreline trees to deter the beavers from taking them down, including on a large Redwood near the University Bridge.

Pearson, a retired schoolteacher who spends his time tending to neighborhood gardens and sculpting topiaries, says he might eventually consider hiring someone to trap the beaver, which he estimates has destroyed at least 10 6-foot tall Evergreen trees within the past month.

"He might be cute, but if you buy a tree, and you spend time fertilizing it and watering it and you see it gnawed down, it's not fun," he said. "You can't imagine seeing somebody eat a tree here in Seattle."