Who’s Cutting the Black Willows on Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park?

Dec. 21, 2014

We’ll Get to the Bottom of This Meander Mystery

Updated Dec. 24, 2014. Mystery solved! See below.

Revisiting a beautiful meander last week in Memorial Park we came across something strange. This is what we call the middle meander in the area of the Harris County Flood Control District’s project to bulldoze the riparian vegetation, dredge and channelize one of the last natural stretches of Buffalo Bayou in the middle of Houston. You can see photos taken earlier in October of this lovely spot.

This is a flat, marshy area of the north bank, filled with wildlife, mullet jumping and landing on their backs, where the bayou has gradually shifted to the east and has been naturally revegetating the sandy banks with native smartweed, ground cherry, boxelder, black willow, and sycamores.

Here is what it looked like last week.

  • Wildlife tracks in the mud on the middle meander to be destroyed. Photo taken Dec. 15, 2014, by Susan Chadwick.
  • Edible native smartweed on the middle meander to be obliterated by the Harris County Flood Control District. Photo taken Dec. 15, 2014, by Susan Chadwick
  • Sycamore in the foreground, sandy point on the south bank of the middle meander to be filled in by the flood control district. Photo taken Dec. 15, 2014, by Susan Chadwick


This area will be totally obliterated by the flood control district’s “erosion control” and “bank stabilization” project, known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project. The bayou here will be filled in, the magnificent, very old cliffs defaced and leveled, and the bayou rerouted further to the south. Why? Because that’s what the flood control district imagines the bayou will do 200-300 years from now. So we taxpayers are paying $4 million to do all the damage now that the bayou might possibly do in several centuries.

The odd thing was that someone has been cutting down the native black willow saplings that are growing up on the sandy bench in this area, creating a new riparian forest so necessary for controlling erosion, stabilizing the banks, cleansing the water, and providing wildlife habitat. Who would do that and why?

Answer: It’s beavers.

Here’s the evidence.

  • Native black willow sapling chopped, apparently by a beaver, it turns out. Experts have pointed out the tooth marks that a beaver makes. All photos taken Dec. 15, 2014, by Susan Chadwick.
  • Another native black willow cut by a busy beaver. These are the trees that a healthy bayou naturally plants to create a new riparian forest, but beavers need homes too.
  • Another young black willow cut down for a beaver development.
  • The probable track of a beaver, apparently dragging a harvested black willow sapling to the water for home building material. And are those beaver footprints with the long toes?


7 thoughts on “Who’s Cutting the Black Willows on Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park?”

  1. So a few experts have suggested that this is the work of beavers.

    Here is a website showing how beavers can cut down a small tree just like that.


    And beavers would explain the strange straight-line dragging marks down to the water — dragging the cut saplings — that were visible in the muddy bank that day.

  2. Anne Hawken Brock says:

    Is there a trained biologist in this group? Unfortunately, I am too old and far away to see for myself. My grandfather, C.L. Brock acquired this park for the City of Houstin when he was Suoerintendent of Parks. He could have arranged a private purchase at $6.00 an acre. I wish he had, then it would be managed by our environmentally aware family. And “yes” Brock Park is named after him. He was a team player, preferring to work behind the scenes, but we have his vision to thank for some of the best features of our city. Let’s keep a preservationist spirit alive. Anne Brock

    1. Yes, but it was one of our trained geologists, also a naturalist, that pointed out the obvious. It’s the work of busy beavers. Another explanation was some sort of cult requiring black willow branches.

      Anne, in addition to this destructive flood control project that we want to stop, you would probably be interested in following and commenting on the proposed new master plan for Memorial Park. http://www.memorialparktomorrow.org/

  3. Debbie Dishberger says:

    There are absolutely beavers along Buffalo Bayou. There is very likely a beaver residence across the bayou from our home. I have pictures of a beaver that I took from the bank of the bayou. Although actual sightings are uncommon since the beavers are nocturnal and shy I once was lucky enough to see two beavers swimming together.

    1. Lucky you!

      Of course the first thing that the Harris County Flood Control District does to “improve” conveyance of the bayou is remove the beaver lodges.

  4. Biologist Mike says:

    I floated the Buffalo Bayou regatta yesterday and noticed several distinct beaver trails coming down to the water along the route. I didn’t see any individual beavers, but did see enough sign to indicate they are active in the area.

    1. Yes, when we were on the banks yesterday putting out and picking up our signs, we saw a lot of stumps of small trees that had been cut down by beavers for their lodges. Harris County Flood Control District policy is to remove beaver lodges from waterways.

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