A growing number of scientists, conservationists and grass-roots environmentalists see the beaver as a much overlooked tool when it comes to reversing the disastrous effects of global warming and world-wide water shortages. The Beaver Whisperers will revisit the industrious rodent and see it through the eyes of people like the University of Alberta's, Dr. Glynnis Hood, whose astonishing scientific research findings are presented in her new book, "The Beaver Manifesto, " and former trapper, Michel Leclair, who today "employs" an army of beavers to help him control flooding in Quebec's Gatineau Park.
The documentary accompanies these and other "beaver whisperers" as they reveal the ways in which the presence of beaver transform and revive landscapes. The Beaver Whisperers reveals what it is that makes our national icon such a brilliant hydro-engineer and explores how beavers are being recruited to accomplish everything from finding water in a bone-dry desert to recharging water tables and coaxing life back into damaged lands.
Michael Runtz’s photographs give viewers a captivating, intimate, glimpse into the world inhabited by beavers. He’s currently focused on capturing images of these enchanting creatures in their natural habitats. The results: a portal into a world seldom seen, an ordinary creature transformed into an extraordinary subject.
His new book, “Beavers: A Natural History of Dam Builders and Their Ponds” will be published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside in Spring 2014. Here are just a handful of the more than 300 images that will be featured. (mouse over to use gallery)
Michael Runtz is one of Canada’s most highly respected naturalists, nature photographers and natural history authors. A birdwatcher since the age of five, he has immersed himself in nature all his life. Michael has worked as a naturalist in Canada’s National and Provincial Parks. Eleven best-selling publications offer evidence of his passion, knowledge and stunning photography.
A dynamic communicator, over 2000 people sign up every year for his Natural History course--televised from Carleton University. But nowhere does Michael feel more at home than in the natural world itself – howling with the elusive wolf, digging out salamanders from under a rotting log, luring in rutting moose with his skillful calls, or capturing speeding dragonflies with his butterfly net.
Biology professor Michael Runtz weighed in against Senator Nicole Eaton on the issue of the polar bear replacing the beaver as Canada’s national emblem on CTV television. View the video.
After spending 19 years as a Parks Canada Warden, Dr. Glynnis Hood left the deep woods to follow her passion for teaching and research. Today she is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Alberta's Augustana Campus.
Her book, "The Beaver Manifesto: In Defense of Tenacity," summarizes her ground-breaking research and explores the ways in which the humble Canadian icon increases the presence of open water, improves bio-diversity and recharges groundwater reserves. Thoughtful and witty, "The Beaver Manifesto" offers a compelling reflection on the beaver's past and a vision for its future in the Canadian myth.
Dr. Hood's research interests include aquatic ecology, beaver management and human-wildlife interaction. Currently she is examining how beavers create wetlands that are not only able to withstand extreme drought, but are also able to support extremely high levels of bio-diversity.
A hydrologist for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forests, Fouty says that focusing on resolutions rather than conflicts can help people and beaver live together in harmony, with both sides reaping the rewards of beavers riparian repairing habits. "There are very few problems that beaver create that cannot be creatively solved," Fouty says. There's this huge benefit. We acknowledge the problems, and now we need to say *OK, I want them, there's got to be a way to find a solution."
Fouty has been studying the relationships between grazing, stream quality, and beaver activity since graduate school. It was the topic of her dissertation, and her passion for the subject drives her day-to-day work on streams high in the mountains of northeastern Oregon. In the process, she's become something of a crusader for beavers' potential to mitigate the effects of climate change: the extreme flooding and periods of drought forecast for the region in coming decades.
Fouty worries that beaver restoration work isn't keeping pace with climate change. In order for beaver to thrive and continue their ecological engineering, they need trees like aspen, willow and cottonwood, which sometimes have been eliminated from ecosystems (often due to a dropped water table caused by beaver loss). "There is a process that requires multiple steps and it takes time," she says. "The longer we wait, the narrower and narrower our window is for us to be able to be effective, and for beaver to be effective."
For nearly 30 years biologist Carol Evans has been a custodian of fish and wildlife for the state of Nevada. Her primary job is managing more than three million acres of desert habitat in the State, providing input on any kind of activity that might impact the land--from mining to cattle ranchers wondering where they can graze their livestock. Evans has also specialized in researching watershed restoration in an effort to ensure the survival of native fish species in the rivers and lakes of the area she manages.
As part of her work she's been deeply involved in the experiment to restrict cattle grazing on selected waterways and to monitor the impact that returning beaver have on restoring those watersheds. She says the results have surprised even her: "Before we started making the management changes that allowed the beaver to come in, this stream was pretty much kind of a dry gravel bed... now there's this teaming wetland full of water. It's kind of a shock. "
Carol Evans holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Nevada in Wildlife Management and a master's degree in Resource Management. She currently makes her home in Elko, Nevada.
Above all, Michel Leclair is passionate about nature. Rich with knowledge about both wildlife and plant life, he captures the attention of anyone who questions him about the subject by sharing his fascinating and incredible anecdotes. Michel has spent his life working in the forest. He calls animals, trees and natural phenomena his "colleagues." Following his experience as an Animal Conservation Officer in Gatineau Park, Michel started his own business, "Wild Animal S.O.S.", in which the principal goal was to manage the beaver populations, as well as the beaver habitat.
One question has always been at the heart of Leclair's work: Can we cohabitate with the beaver, or must it be eliminated? For Michel Leclair, the answer is obvious. Human beings can cohabitate with this animal, but in order for this to occur, we must learn about its instinctive habits and then use them to manage its habitat. Over time, Leclair developed an unmatched expertise in managing the beaver and its habitat.
Completely self-educated, today he is recognized as an expert in his field. He designed and installed the more than 200 water control devices in Gatineau Park. Despite being home to over 300 colonies of beaver on over 360 square kms., Leclair's ingeniuity has virtually eliminated the negative impacts beaver have had on the park's infrastructure and ended the practice of trapping as a means of controlling the population.
In 1997, Michel Leclair developed the idea of sharing his precious knowledge of the beaver and its habitat following the purchase of his vast property in Wakefield. The concept of the water maze came to him from the very beavers that he worked alongside for 25 years. The beaver, upon settling into a habitat, digs a network of underwater canals that are similar to a labyrinth. This network allows it to move around throughout the entire year in order to wood to build dams with and food to eat. At Eco-Odyssee, Michel has created an environment that features those canals as a way to introduce people to his world and to the world of the beavers that inhabit it.
Michele Grant has been a dedicated wildlife rehabilitator for nearly two decades. She is a fully licensed Wildlife Custodian accredited by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Well connected to the Ontario wildlife rehabilitation community, Michele has kept current with trends by attending several courses on animal rehabilitation.
She is also co-founder of Wild for Life near the town of Rosseau, Ontario. The facility initially specialized in the rehabilitation and release of raccoons, with the odd fox and injured turtle included when needs must. Inspired by the work of legendary wildlife specialist, Audrey Tournay, last year Michele opened the door to a new species--beaver. She describes caring for orphaned beaver kit, Timber, as the most challenging, humbling and rewarding experience of her rehabbing career. In addition, Michele has worked for the past 25 years as a paramedic in the city of Toronto.
Twenty-eight years ago, Colorado hairdresser Sherri Tippie persuaded local authorities to let her trap beaver that were gnawing trees on a local golf course and relocate rather than kill them. Back in 1987, Tippie was ridiculed by wildlife officials as a rank amateur. Now those same agencies seek her out for advice and beg her to conduct seminars on how to trap safely. Her grassroots volunteer organization Wildlife 2000 has live-trapped and relocated more than 1000 of the industrious animals.
Known internationally as the "Dian Fossey of Beavers," Tippie has probably live-trapped, fed, cuddled, relocated, observed, defended, conversed with, serenaded and otherwise saved from annihilation more beaver than any person on the planet. Her expertise has been achieved through long hours in muddy, trash-choked creeks and endless struggles with complacent bureaucrats, "smug exterminators" and homeowner associations that view beaver as an invasive species.
Since that first trapping session, ecologists and water authorities have increasingly come to see beaver as something much more than annoying rodents that mess up urban streams and jam culverts with their infernal dams. And Sherri Tippie has had a lot to do with that change of attitude.
Kent Woodruff is a passionate biologist who lives with his wife and three boys on 2 pristine hectacres in North Central Washington. He describes himself as the luckiest biologist he knows; working for more than 20 years on cool projects with songbirds, bats, birds of prey, and beavers. He points to the very talented biologists and resource professionals he has been fortunate to work with and learn from as the source of his inspiration. In turn, Kent, himself, is a much-beloved mentor to the numerous young scientists who work alongside him in the wilds of the Washington Cascades.
Kent started in Washington with the US Forest Service in 1989. Prior to that he worked with state and federal agencies on projects in the Midwestern US, East Coast, and several Western states.
He has looked in peregrine falcon nests from helicopters, spied on baby bats with night vision binoculars, and climbed trees with spurs to band young great gray owls. He says the most meaningful work he has done in his 40-year career is returning beavers to streams where they once were very abundant. He hopes The Methow Relocation Project will be the legacy he is remembered for.