Beavers live on many of our Lone Pine Land Trust properties.
CBC’s Ideas recently had a programme all about beavers. If you want to learn more about beavers as ecosystem engineers and human-beaver interactions, the programme is a great listen. Find the link to the audio here.
The following article is based on “The Beaver Whisperers” which aired on CBC’s The Nature of Things in April 2017.
Warmer climate, extreme weather patterns with torrential rains, drought, and up to 41 days with temperatures exceeding 30°C in summer, new vector born diseases arriving from further south, food insecurity and water scarcity: these are just a few of things we can look forward to with changing climate.
But there is help. The busy beaver is just who we need to manage water retention on a drought prone landscape. Otherwise known as Castor canadensis, beavers are perfectly adapted to aquatic life with webbed feet and wide flat tail for swimming. Their ears, eyes and nose sit on the top of their head such that they see, hear and breathe while swimming just below the water’s surface. They can remain under water for up to fifteen minutes.
The beaver can create and modify landscapes creating reservoirs that store water. They build dams by cutting down small trees with their razor sharp teeth. They place the wood at the dam site then continue selecting wood of various shapes and sizes to fit into any spaces, weaving it tightly. Finally, the whole thing is sealed with mud which they carry from the bottom of the pond between their front paws. And voila!, water retention. The presence of beavers has more impact on water availability than climate and precipitation and they have even been known to bring water back to desiccated lands. These hydro-engineers could well be one of the most important animals on the planet.
There are many examples where the introduction of beavers has resulted in raised water tables, restored stream flow and the establishment of wetlands. Wetlands provide important ecological services such as water filtration and pollution control, flood attenuation and coastal shoreline protection and they are vital habitat for wildlife.
In Gatineau Park, managers observed that it’s the sound of flowing water that triggers the beavers to build or repair their dams. By strategically creating water sounds where dams would be beneficial, they were able to fool the beavers into engineering the wetlands according to park management designs. Nuisance beavers suddenly became helpful resource managers. Instead of trapping them, the beavers were spared, infrastructure was protected and the wetlands now thrive with biodiversity. They were able to prove that humans and beavers really can coexist.