Alberta and Saskatchewan have at least two of the smartest beaver researchers in the world, massive collective beaver intelligence, and easily the most beaver-dissertations generated anywhere. Still they hate beavers with a fiery passion. I’m not sure why. Maybe there was a nasty voyageur incident in their past. But Dr. Hood can prove that beavers dams are the only areas that have water during drought, Dr. Westbrook can prove that beaver dams are the only areas that don’t flood in heavy storms, and a student can film beavers tap dancing to the hallelujah chorus, and it doesn’t matter. Alberta and Saskatchewan still hate beavers.
When the rain hit Kananaskis Country, Alta., last June, unleashing a torrent of water and flooding dozens of communities, it washed out a large beaver dam being monitored down in the valley.
But several others remained intact and even stored water.
”For the majority of the event, we actually had a lot of storage in the system,” said Cherie Westbrook, an associate professor in wetland ecohydrology at the University of Saskatchewan who’s been studying beavers in the Sibbald area of Kananaskis since 2006. “There was actually quite a lot of ability to retain the flood waters and slow them down as they were moving down the valley bottom.”
Her team, including some university students, ended up getting trapped in the field when the deluge hit. But they learned a lot about how beavers could help in a flood.
”Beaver ponds were pretty empty prior to the event happening,” Westbrook said. “The larger one, the one most downstream, became overwhelmed with water and it ended up blowing a 10-metre section of it out so we had some flooding, but not massive flooding.” Flooding was much worse in other southern Alberta areas, making the 2013 event the worst natural disaster in Canadian history.
Oh my goodness, the area has been the site of research that proves beavers mitigate flooding AND drought. Hmm, the two things that we know will happen as our climate changes. I wonder if they’ll start to look at beaver differently – this multipurpose solution with paws. Will there be “Come to beavers” meeting soon?
Don’t hold your breath.
As the Alberta government looks at ways to mitigate against future floods, focusing on infrastructure such as diversion canals and dry dams, scientists suggest the province should also consider nature’s top engineer: the beaver.
But Nikki Booth, a spokeswoman for Alberta Environment, says the province isn’t considering any natural solutions.
”We’ve been focused on flood mitigation through infrastructure,” she said. “The nature piece and beavers specifically have not come up.”
No No No, says the minister of the environment. We don’t need beavers. We need bigger drains! Wider gutters! More concrete! Beavers are icky.
I’m starting to think we don’t need any more scientists or research to prove that beavers are good for water or salmon or birds. It’s been done. Well done. Stick-a-fork-in-it done. What we need is more ‘convincers’. People who can change minds one argument at a time, neighbor by neighbor by neighbor, fisherman by fisherman, one service club after another.
What we need is a million Worth A Dams.