Timber! Marauding rodent sharpens teeth on symbol of spring

The capital's blossoming cherry trees aren't just a feast for the eyes of spring tourists.

One busy beaver has been partaking of this Japanese delight as well, felling four flowering cherry trees in the famous grove at the Jefferson Memorial Tidal Basin, and leaving telltale signs of noshing on several others.

The beaver has also sawed down five white cedars, and its nighttime raids are keeping the National Park Service busy clearing away the woody leftovers so tourists don't trip over them.

"We want to capture it as soon as we can, because we're at the height of cherry blossom season and we've got lots of people down there," says National Park Service spokesman Earle Kittleman. "We don't want to have this beaver causing a sideshow, but that's what's happened."

Indeed, Ron Washington, on his annual pilgrimage to view the puffy clouds of blossoms, had his two children flank a gnawed-on tree for a photo opportunity. "I think it's best if they take him and carry him up river somewhere."

Easier said than done.

The Park Service would like to capture the furry fellow live and release it far from this tourist-trampled patch, which the beaver probably reached via flood debris from the adjacent Potomac River.

But so far the 30 to 40 pound animal has proved elusive, and the Park Service is consulting with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the best way to trap it.

"Beavers are hard to catch," says Bill McShea, a research scientist at the Smithsonian Institution. When they make their nighttime forays to cut trees for a dam or log home, they aren't easily distracted. And if this beaver's new to the neighborhood, "he's going to cut like crazy" to build a home.

The damage barely makes a dent on the 3,000 trees, a 1912 gift from Japan. That's not the point for locals, who are hardly pleased to see their symbol of spring reduced to chips.

The beaver is probably dining happily on cherry leaves and twigs, as well, says Mr. McShea. "They're one of the first trees that green up. Those cherries are perfect."

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