Beavers behave badly. Canadians love them anyway.


ALGONQUIN PROVINCIAL PARK, Ontario – The beaver may be one of Canada’s official national symbols, as iconic as the maple leaf, but Canadians maintain a love-hate relationship with the creature, with an emphasis on many others on the second emotion.

Some communities in Alberta are offering beaver tail bounties. A mayor of Quebec called for their “eradication”. The culprits often point the finger, rightly or wrongly, to highway scours, some of which have fatal consequences. Farmers watch in despair as their land disappears under a beaver pond.

For the second time in the past 15 years, Colleen Watson has watched beavers this summer flood a 100-acre woodlot in the Atlantic province of New Brunswick that her grandfather, a blacksmith, took in payment from a customer. during the Great Depression.

“I like to see nature, don’t I? You can watch it do its job, ”Ms. Watson said, more exasperated than furious at the animal. “Hatred is what it does to my property. “

The large rodent has played an inordinate role in Canadian history.

The push by Europeans to take control of what would become the Canada of its indigenous peoples was driven in large part by a craze for beaver felt top hats, a craze that wiped out the European population. For 200 years, a third of today’s Canadian territory was the exclusive trapline of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

After beavers nearly died out in the mid-19th century, fashions changed and Canada’s fertile beavers rebounded. It is now found, more or less, in every woodland region of the country, and in 1975, the beaver was declared the official symbol of Canada.

Beaver dams are the most common source of beaver damage complaints. When first constructed, the ponds flood formerly dry land. When a dam collapses – which usually only happens after beavers, excellent builders, abandon their pond – the rushing water can destroy rural roads and railroads.

But some of the problems caused by beavers are more unusual and make the headlines in the local newspapers.

This year has witnessed a number of notable episodes: Beavers crossed a fiber-optic cable, cutting internet service to Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia, and a subway station in Toronto was closed after it closed. ‘a lost beaver has been on a tour.

Authorities attribute many beaver-related offenses to “weather events”, such as when a beaver pond is submerged in rain, but sometimes the police catch them red-handed (a beaver’s feet are webbed, its paws before are not). In May, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police recovered his beaver in a case of theft of wooden fence posts. (The scene of the crime was a reminder that beavers are not Canada’s only cute, barely cuddly wild animal: Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan.)

It’s hard to determine how much damage beavers cause each year, said Glynnis Hood, a professor of environmental science at the University of Alberta and unapologetic beaver champion. She was part of a research project that determined that beavers cost towns and cities in Alberta at least C $ 3 million per year, but she called this a “very, very low estimate” because many municipalities simply had no idea what they were spending on beaver. – related repairs.

Professor Hood herself is no stranger to the intrusive behavior of beavers. This year, a beaver family removed several trees in front of their house.

“But, you know, trees grow back,” she said. “These are the consequences of living close to a very natural area. “

While the professor said she had no grudges against these supposedly industrious animals, she had sympathy for people who believe that “any beaver, whether it causes floods or cuts trees, is one beaver too many.”

Once the beavers come into your life, it can be difficult to dislodge them.

“I’ve talked to different people, and they’ve said that once they’re on your land it’s very, very hard to get them out,” said Ms Watson, who is now trying to find a solution for remove them from its woodlot in New Brunswick.

Trappers are an option.

Darcy Alkerton was a licensed trapper in Spencerville, Ont., For 45 of his 61 years. This experience, he said, taught him the value of taking action as soon as the beavers are seen settling down.

“It’s like ants: if you feed them and don’t manage them, they will be overcrowded,” he said.

Until 1987, Mr. Alkerton’s beaver management technique included blasting dams.

One of the reasons he stopped: “You never see an old man with dynamite,” he told another trapper.

Today, Mr. Alkerton and 21 employees use pickaxes and shovels to dismantle parts of dams to lower water levels.

By law in Ontario, beavers cannot be moved more than one kilometer after live trapping. But Mr Alkerton said a beaver moving such a short distance was unlikely to catch the hint and would return soon.

This means that Mr. Alkerton must at times, with great reluctance, kill beavers.

“There are people who say the only good beaver is a dead beaver, and I don’t believe it,” he said.

Beavers have their strong supporters, including those who speak out against the default urge to destroy any beaver dam, even those who pose little real risk. And some evidence suggests that intact beaver dams may actually alleviate river flooding.

The dams – the longest in the world, in Alberta, measuring 2,788 feet, according to Guinness – create ponds that provide both defense and food. The lodges where they live can only be entered underwater, deterring most predators. In the fall, they gnaw on trees to create a winter food cache stored under ice.

On a remote gravel road used by both canoeists and loggers in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Michael Runtz, author of “Dam Builders: The Natural History of Beavers and their Ponds,” noted with disapproval a dam which had been partly destroyed. He said logging companies came along the road every spring and cleared all dams nearby.

“In most cases, it doesn’t threaten the road,” he said. “But they have this fear that it will wash it out and they’ll need to spend some money to fix it.”

After stopping to admire a large birch tree felled by beavers, Mr. Runtz confirmed their work ethic. But he hesitated when asked about their intelligence.

“They have a great instinct,” he said. “But they’re easily, easily trapped, and easily grabbed by wolves, so no, they’re not exactly the brightest animals on the streets.”

Plus, despite millions of years of experience, beavers, at their peril, still haven’t figured out how to steer where trees fall. “There have been records of beavers being killed by fallen trees,” Runtz said. “I still hope to find a skeleton one day.”

Beaver’s reliance on instinct rather than intelligence has helped humans develop techniques that allow at least an impasse between the two species, if not absolute peace.

A large pond in Gatineau Park, a federal wilderness area in Quebec, sits near a road that also serves as a cross-country ski trail in the winter. But it doesn’t flood, thanks to something known as the Beaver Deceiver.

If a dam is demolished or damaged, the sound of spilled water quickly puts beaver colonies into repair mode. The Beaver Deceiver – submerged piping that can control water flow – lowers and maintains the depth of a pond without the telltale runoff.

This deception helped the park avoid damaging its roads and buildings without killing any of its more than 1,400 beavers, said Catherine Verreault, the park’s interim director.

According to Ms. Verreault, Canadians generally underestimate beavers – and their exotic appeal to non-Canadians.

During a visit to the park by wilderness officials from around the world, the unexpected highlight was the sighting of a beaver, which led guests to exit the tour bus for a photo op.

“These are people who have really awesome animals: tigers, lions and elephants,” she said. “But they were so excited when the beaver came in, hitting his tail. It was just perfect.


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