News this morning out of Canada that puts the “Find your park” campaign of the US National Parks 100 anniversary to shame. Lets start here.
Beavers are regarded as ecological engineering wonders – and now Banff National Park is relying on some manmade engineering solutions to retain vital beaver habitat in the Bow Valley.
Parks Canada is embarking on a $26 million project to replace an aging wildlife exclusion fence along the busy Trans-Canada Highway, but the fence runs through several areas that beavers have turned into impressive wetlands.
Officials say there are two beaver dam areas that are causing particular concern – one along the Legacy Trail and the other by the Norquay interchange where culverts beneath the highway are being affected.
“Where we’re able to, we’re going to re-route the fence design to keep out of the wetlands beavers have created,” said Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for Banff National Park.
26 million dollar project? Did I read this right? Culvert Protection along the entire TransCanada highway – all 5ooo miles from sea to shining sea? The mind reels. The jaw drops.
Beavers are known for unprecedented feats of ecological engineering – building dams, ponds and wetlands that can flood and damage human infrastructure – and are persecuted by humans as a result.
But they are also considered a keystone species, creating ponds that consistently have higher waterfowl diversity, more complex invertebrate communities, and provide critical habitats for amphibians. The buck-toothed creatures also create habitats that provide flood mitigation and resilience to extreme drought.
Hunt said when beavers cause problems for human infrastructure, the traditional go-to solution has long been to live trap or kill beavers, or go in with heavy equipment to destroy their dams.
“None of those historic remedies are very appropriate these days,” said Hunt. “We’d like to come up with solutions that work to ensure water flows through the culverts, but also preserves the habitat for the beavers.”
Beavers probably see a culvert beneath a road as a hole in an otherwise good dam, so they try to plug the hole. Parks is using flow devices, which are relatively cost-effective, low-maintenance solutions that regulate the water level of beaver dams and keep culverts open.
It talks about trapezoidal culvert fences AND beaver deceivers, pond levelers and clemsons. It even goes into how and why they work. Then after truly blowing our minds for several paragraphs it interviews Dr. Glynnis Hood to check that all this is true.
Glynnis Hood, author of the Beaver Manifesto and an associate professor of environmental science at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose, said she was pleased to hear about the work that Parks Canada is doing.
She said she has installed 29 flow devices since 2011 in various places, including at Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, as well as in the rural municipality of Beaver County.
“I think what Parks Canada is doing is great, especially in a national park,” she said. “I’ve installed many of these devices in various places and the success rate has been very high. There’s been minimal to no maintenance on most.”
Hood, who studies wetland ecology as it relates to wildlife habitat and management, said she started to look into some of these flow devices because she was tired of seeing beaver habitat destroyed.
“I’m an ecologist, but over time I’ve turned into a wetland plumber because I was tired of seeing these wetlands, and specifically ones that are occupied and modified and transformed by beavers, with the highest biodiversity, disappear,” she said.
“I would be at a beautiful pond, with nesting songbirds, tadpole, frogs and waterfowl and then the next day I would go back and it would be drained because of management concerns. I thought ‘there’s got to be a better way.’ ”
Beavers play a vital role in the environment and are referred to as a keystone species.
“When beavers are in areas, it ends up supporting many other species that otherwise wouldn’t have habitat,” said Hood. “They do remarkable things.”
Parks Canada is hoping to showcase the work to be done at the beaver dam by the Legacy Trail to educate how important beaver habitat can be saved instead of destroyed.
“It’s one of the best beaver dam viewing opportunities in Banff National Park, and it’s completely and totally accessible,” said Hunt. “It’s like a demonstration project. We really want to show there are ways to allow beavers on the landscape without having the detrimental effects people often associate with them.”
This article just calls for this anthem. Timely because Jon and I are still reeling from Brexit which kinda symbolically unmarries us (we met in Germany where he was working as a British citizen, lo these many years ago).
Maybe we should all move to Canada.