Evidence of beaver damage on a cherry tree at the Tidal Basin. Photo courtesy of Mike Litterst.

Beavers Threaten Famed Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms

Washington D.C.’s cherry blossoms are one of the biggest tourist attractions in the nation’s capital, drawing 1-1.5 million visitors over just a few weeks each spring.

Right now, some of the beloved trees are being threatened by a unexpected foe in D.C.: beavers. The National Park Service is closely monitoring the toothy mammals as they gnaw away at a couple dozen cherry tree trunks.

National Mall and Memorial Parks spokesman Mike Litterst estimates there are 15-20 cherry trees around the Tidal Basin with evidence of beaver activity. They occur mostly in the areas where the seawall has settled low enough that beavers can get to land easily.

Beavers tend to target trees where the seawall is low enough for easy access to land. Photo: cherryblossomwatch.com

So what will officials do about it? For now, they’ll just watch the beavers work.

Litterst says, “Unless they start felling trees, we’re just going to monitor the activity, but not attempt to trap or relocated the beaver(s). After all, the beaver is just doing what comes naturally…Our business isn’t to move or relocate beavers, but rather to ensure they can’t access our property and/or make the trees unappealing.”

To that end, park staff will place mesh around the trees the beavers are targeting.

Despite their surprising presence in busy, urban Washington, D.C., beavers aren’t unheard of or even rare around the Tidal Basin. Litterst says their activity tends to increase in the fall when looking for food within their territory and also in the spring when they disperse from their family.

Since 2021, beavers have felled a willow tree in the area and nearly felled a cherry tree before moving on to other pursuits.

The 3,000 cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin were given as a gift to Washington by the Mayor of Tokyo in 1912. A handful of today’s trees may be original to 1912, but new ones have been planted as the decades go by and the cherry trees reach their life expectancy.

As Litterst explains it, the Tidal Basin loses an average of 90 or so trees a year due to old age, disease and other factors. Beavers are just another reason for that loss.

-Meg Walburn Viviano