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Living with Wildlife

Beavers – Iconic Inhabitants of the Bow

The Living with Wildlife column is published monthly in the Rocky Mountain Outlook to create awareness of living with wildlife challenges. We also work with local newspapers, radio and television stations to promote wildlife safety issues through the media on a weekly basis.

A loud splash in the water punctuates an otherwise quiet early evening walk along the river. Is it someone throwing rocks? No, it is a beaver warning others of your ‘intrusion’ into their domain. As you look around, you see the remainder of trees that have been chewed into 12 inch stumps, and a beaver dam flooding the trail ahead. Upon entering your back yard the aspen you have been nurturing for years has been cut down. Vandals? Yes, but not the hominid kind. An inspection of the stump confirms the cut tree to have been yet another beaver project.

Beavers are a native species of the valley. They have a unique ability to modify their environment, some claim second only to us humans. In fact, the ecosystem relies on beaver habitat modification. (Similar to elephants in the savannah!) Beavers can be found along the Bow River, tributary creeks, swampy areas and, on occasion, golf course water traps. They are a Canadian icon evoking a wide range of reaction: admiration for their industrious nature, to anger for their destructiveness. Regardless of your opinion, beavers are just doing what beavers do.

A typical established beaver family is 3 generations with up to 10 individuals. They harvest trees to eat the bark and build their dams. Once the tree supply is depleted, they move into new areas.

Are beavers dangerous? There are no documented reports of a beaver attack, however if they are cornered by your dog or boxed in, they can do considerable damage defending themselves. Their tree cutting may result in trees across roads and trails, partial cut trees falling as you pass them, and denuded areas leaving spiked stumps.

Beavers have unique physiological adaptations that allow them to live and feed in a watery environment. Their chisel shaped teeth never stop growing so they don’t have to worry about wearing them down when cutting down trees, their lips close behind their teeth so splinters don’t get into their mouth, and their dense waterproof fur keeps them warm and dry. Yes dry! When they prune their fur, they rub in oil they produce, which essentially acts as a waterproofing agent. A large liver and lungs combined with decreased circulation to their extremities helps to store and conserve oxygen, so they can dive longer underwater. Even their tail is interesting. In the winter it serves as a fat store, and in the summer it’s flat shape helps beavers keep cool by allowing body heat to dissipate over a large surface area (similar to elephant ears!).

What can we do to mitigate beaver induced property damage?

To preserve trees, wrap them in chicken wire extending 4 feet up the trunk. The wire will discourage most beavers. If the beaver’s action is deemed destructive, impedes water flow, or creates unsafe situations, please call 403-591-7755.

Unfortunately, destruction of the beaver(s) is the most frequent management option. Proactive tree protection, and an attitude of tolerance, will ensure beavers are here for future generations to enjoy.

WildSmart is a proactive conservation strategy that encourages efforts by all to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions. We thank our sponsors and the community for their support, we could not do this without you.

Residents are encouraged to report any sightings of bear, cougar or aggressive elk to 403-591-7755.
For all public safety emergencies call 9-1-1.

 

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