We all know that beaver activity can cause property damage from flooding. Beavers can also create chaos in a poplar forest, leave behind hazardous stumps and be annoyingly persistent.
But, as researchers have discovered (and many farmers have long known), these fascinating mammals play a critical role in maintaining environmental integrity. Their dams slow spring runoff, raise the water table level, maintain wetlands during times of drought, increase biodiversity, and can even clean up pollutants. Rivers with beaver dams have five to 10 times more groundwater reserves than those without. They are truly remarkable environmental engineers.
Late last summer, we noticed some telltale signs of beaver activity in the small wetland below the Tea House at Ellis Bird Farm. Our reaction was typically knee-jerk: trap and remove them. But we reconsidered and decided to leave things be for the winter.
Whether the lone individual spotted last fall survived the winter is not known. But this spring, he/she either found a mate or a new pair took up residence. Cognizant of the damage they might cause, we wire-wrapped all vulnerable trees near the pond and started to monitor their activities. As expected, they started building up the dam. The small lodge near the wheelchair path was refurbished and another large one started on the far side of the pond. Scent mounds and grooming pads appeared. The water level slowly but steadily increased.
To discourage the beavers from wandering into the forest, we started cutting down poplar saplings and tossing them into the water. These “beaver feeders” have been very effective at keeping them closer to home. We have also been able to avert flooding problems by installing weeping tile in the dam.
These beavers have afforded me the wonderful opportunity to watch and photograph them. They rarely slap their tails in annoyance at my presence, and on some occasions I have been as close as one metre as they noisily munch on poplar leaves and branches, haul sticks and mud to repair the dam, nuzzle each other with apparent affection, and fastidiously groom themselves. After many mosquito-filled hours spent peeking into their world, I have nothing but admiration for these industrious and creative creatures.
Ellis Bird Farm will be hosting a drop-in “Evening with the Martins” on Friday August 5 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM. This evening will provide visitors with the opportunity to watch and listen to the very noisy and active martins, and to observe our sociable beavers. Cost for the evening is $10.00 and includes refreshments. Pre-registration is not required. Check our website for more details www.ellisbirdfarm.ca