Beaver saga needs damage control

It’s one of those stories that’s just odd enough to be fascinating. Since the first reports of beaver attacks on dogs made headlines last week, I’ve been following the reaction to this story with great interest.

It’s one of those stories that’s just odd enough to be fascinating.

Since the first reports of beaver attacks on dogs made headlines last week, I’ve been following the reaction to this story with great interest. On social media portals like Twitter and Facebook, people have dubbed us ‘Red Neck Deer’ while others accuse of us of being ‘brain-dead hillbillies’ — as if every person in Red Deer were to blame.

Numerous letters to the editor and comments posted to the Advocate’s website expressed feelings of disgust and outrage at the handling of the problematic beaver(s) at Red Deer’s Three Mile Bend off-leash dog park.

And all this was happening before the beaver was killed. . . .

Without question the Great Beaver Crisis of 2010 has done damage to Red Deer’s reputation and with the mysterious and unauthorized beaver killing, the fervour around this issue has been elevated to a whole new level.

For those not totally up to speed, last week the Advocate published a story detailing multiple incidents of beaver-on-dog violence at Three Mile Bend. One dog — a husky — died of its injuries after brawling with a beaver.

Then on Wednesday morning, it was reported that a canoeist at Three Mile Bend discovered the body of a beaver that had been shot to death.

It appears likely that some misguided individual tried to resolve the matter by assassinating the suspect beaver.

Communications staff at City Hall have had their hands full trying respond to media from all over the country.

Earlier this week, I prepared some questions of my own for the city’s communications staff. Below are some of my questions and the responses I received from communications officer Jennifer Blair.

Advocate: How has the city responded to the beaver situation in terms of public relations?

Blair: “Ensuring public safety was our No. 1 priority in handling the beaver situation. When city staff first learned of the incidents at Three Mile Bend almost two weeks ago, we put up some additional signage to advise park users of wildlife in the area. Based on the single incident, we felt that public education was the right response.

“Unfortunately, following that, we saw that it was not an isolated incident but, rather, a series of escalating incidents and a potentially risky environment for park users.

“The city was placed in a difficult position where we had to balance the protection of wildlife with the safety of our citizens ­— and our priority is always to citizen safety. Based on that, we communicated the details of the situation transparently with the community every step of the way.

“Trevor Poth, our parks superintendent, actually personally responded to every email he received from citizens, other Canadians and people across the world. Throughout the course of this incident, it’s been extremely important to the city that Red Deerians understand their responsibility in sharing the parks with wildlife and our responsibility in managing threats to public safety.”

Advocate: Were you surprised by public sensitivity and controversy surrounding the beaver attacks?

Blair: “We were definitely surprised by the national media coverage this incident received, but we weren’t at all surprised by the response from citizens. Red Deerians are passionate about parks and wildlife, and their response reflected that.

“We understand the public perception that, by using park space or creating park space, we’re infringing on wildlife territory. What a lot of people don’t know is that Three Mile Bend was an abandoned gravel pit that the city has been reclaiming for off-leash use for the past 25 years.

“Obviously, the Parks section has done a good job of restoring habitat in the park, and we’re glad that wildlife have moved into the area, but if we want to continue to enjoy green spaces in our city, we need to share the space when possible and deal with issues when necessary.”

Advocate: The beaver saga is now a national news story. Is there concern over how this issue has reflected on our city?

Blair: “We are certainly concerned about how this issue has reflected on our city — but there’s only so much the city, as an organization, can do to manage the perception people have of our community. We can tell Canadians that the city values park space and wildlife habitat, and we can even point to the River Valley and Tributaries Park Concept Plan and the Waskasoo Park Master Plan as proof of that.

“Showing Canadians that Red Deer is more than the city with the ‘killer beaver’ or the ‘beaver killer’ is something every single Red Deerian, including city staff, should try to do. As a community, we share the responsibility of reflecting a positive image to the rest of Canada, and I hope that Red Deerians will take every opportunity they have to disprove the misconceptions people have of our city.”

Advocate: Obviously it’s unfair for people to blame the city as a whole for the killing of the beaver, but that’s what seems to be happening. How would you respond to the people labelling Red Deerians as ‘rednecks’ and ‘beaver killers’ etc.?

Blair: “Like I said, there’s only so much we can do to challenge the misconceptions people have of Red Deerians and the stereotypes we’ve been labeled with. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the difficult decisions the city has had to make throughout this situation and of the unnecessary and illegal action of the person who shot the beaver.

“We can’t control how people view us as a result of this incident, but we can mitigate the fallout of their misconception by showing people the reality of who we are as a community.”

Leo Paré is the Advocate’s website editor. See his blogs at bprda.wpengine.com or contact him at lpare@bprda.wpengine.com