Beavers: Friend or Foe?

by ajalo on November 3, 2017 - 2:55pm

Beavers may be an iconic symbol of Canada, though the rodent is not always welcome. Due to higher levels of rain, there have been an increased number of beaver dams appearing in the Greater Sudbury area (Samson, 2017). Samantha Samson (2017) reports that home owners and industries are experiencing increased flooding due to the accidental breaking of the beaver dams. This has created a positive feedback loop of increased flooding, as the increase in rain brings more beavers, their dams break as the amount of rain increases.

While beavers have become a nuisance to northern Ontario residents, recent studies show that beavers are beneficial to ecosystems and biodiversity. A 12-year study from Stirling University in Scotland has found that vegetation surrounding the beaver’s habitat “increased in complexity” by 71% (‘Beavers' biodiversity’, 2017). Wetlands in Scotland are decreasing, and programs to reintroduce beavers to the ecosystem have already begun after all the beavers in the United Kingdom went extinct due to hunting (‘Beavers' biodiversity’, 2017). Another study conducted in Oregon, found that beaver ponds reduced water temperatures, which helped the survival rates of juvenile fish species which do not do very well in warm waters (Kachur, 2017). The researchers also discovered that they could create artificial dams, and that beavers would move in on their own (Kachur, 2017).

Knowing the benefits that beavers can bring to local ecosystems with their natural engineering skills, I would like to see this research applied in Canada. In areas where beavers have become pests, researchers and the government could work together to relocate beavers to areas where they would not be an annoyance. Areas that need wetland restoration, or have suffered vegetation loss, could have beavers introduced to the location. There is obviously a value conflict (Mitchell, 2015, p. 13) when it comes to Canada’s national animal, as it is seen as a pest by more and more northerners as the beavers move north due to the warming climate, and as cost efficient solution to biodiversity loss and habitat restoration by others. On the other hand, beavers are valuable to conservationists of wetlands and to species which would benefit from the re-introduction of beavers to their habitat.

There is also a behavioural conflict (Mitchell, 2015, p. 13) as homeowners and industries who are being impacted by the flooding of beaver ponds have a different relationship with the animals and do not welcome them on their land. Depending on the interactions that different people have with the beavers, their behaviours towards the animal will differ. People who are not affected by beaver ponds or who do not know anyone who is affected by them, probably won’t see them as a problem. While beavers may be a huge burden to people whose property is affected by the flooding of beaver ponds.

Hopefully, we can see a more harmonious relationship between beavers, the environment and landowners in the future. By relocating beavers to ecosystems which need restoration, I think we could potentially see a lot of money saved by letting beavers engineer environments themselves instead of costly restoration efforts. This would also prevent many headaches for landowners, and save them money as well if their property is flooded less often. Unfortunately, I do not think this would mean an end to the killing of beavers, because if they relocate the beavers and their populations start to increase, they could just end up finding their way back to private land where they would once again become a nuisance.

 

References

Beavers' biodiversity benefits highlighted in new study. (2017, July 19). Retrieved October 06, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-40642163

Kachur, T. (2017, May 18). Beavers are dam important for the ecosystem. Retrieved October 06, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/why-beavers-matter-1.4121550

Mitchell, B. (2015). Resource and environmental management in Canada (5th ed.). Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.

Samson, S. (2017, August 07). Homeowner and industry struggling with beaver dam flooding. Retrieved October 06, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/nuisance-beavers-northern-ontario-...