Special thanks to Publisher of The North Island Eagle, Kathy O’Reilly
Originally printed Friday, May 25 2018, in The North Island Eagle
It was a few weeks ago in Nanaimo BC. She had called the police for help believing there was an intruder trying to break into her house. The brave Mountie attended. A skittish beaver showed himself and produced identification by handing the Mountie a 5cent coin. Ok, not really, but almost! It was on the news, I swear! Google it. We often forget that Vancouver Island has beavers and the North Island is no different. When Forest Service Roads and Highways experience flooding as a result of beaver dams, there are alternative options to killing these hard working creatures. Turns out we might want to keep these little guys around to help protect our wetlands.
Beavers were the backbone of the early colonial fur trade. Millions of beavers were killed for their fur, which was popular for men’s hats and other outerwear. The trade was so successful that, for a time, beavers were nearly wiped out from the country they represent.
Though beaver populations have returned, they are frequently misunderstood.
Damming and lodge activities can cause damage to infrastructure through tree felling and changes to water levels, but also provide essential services such as creating ground water, developing and maintain wetlands, cleaning harmful elements from water, and building habitat that’s home to hundreds of other species, including wild salmon.
During times of forest fires, intense heat or draught, beavers also come in handy because they keep water on the land.
Beavers are much more than a rodent. They are a keystone species, meaning that other species are dependent on their survival. When beavers are removed, wetlands dry up and the landscape changes dramatically.
Beavers live in monogamous pairs and family groups called colonies. Both parents are active in raising their babies called kits. There are 3 generations that live in a colony and beavers are most often seen at dusk and dawn. They are social, curious, hard-working and non-aggressive.
Traditionally, beavers were managed through lethal trapping. While some trapping continues today, it is often a short-term solution as more beavers will soon return to the same area from where they were removed.
To preserve wetlands and support our ecosystems, scientists and researchers are discovering new and initiative ways to co-exist with beavers. Flow devices and exclusion fencing are being used by several BC municipalities to keep beaver families together and wetlands intact. Flow devices are cage and pipe systems that allow water to continue flowing through an existing dam. They are inexpensive and can be installed easily by a small crew that has been trained.
One fact that all coastal people need to know is that salt water is toxic to beavers. Beavers can only live in fresh water – lakes, rivers and streams. If you see a beaver in the ocean, call your local wildlife rehabber for help.
As seen in recent media accounts, this can prove to be a difficult balance to strike.
Water is a precious resource and beavers seem willing to help protect wetlands and keep water on the land base to avoid drought conditions (which, incidentally, is natural protection from forest fires) – all for free! I think they need to get a Union, seems to me there is a wage issue here.
And know you know as much as I do about beavers. Save it, I’ve heard all the jokes before.
Bryce Casavant is a former BC Conservation Officer and Doctoral Candidate with Royal Roads University. He writes for the Eagle from his home on Vancouver Island.