Beating the beaver at its own busy nature

The beaver may be one of Canada’s national symbols — but it doesn’t exactly endear itself in our urban landscape.

Hands-on workshop teaches strategies to "fool" the often misunderstood mammal

A hands-on workshop in Calgary Thursday showed new ways to deal with beavers in a humane way, rather than trapping them. (CBC)

The beaver may be one of Canada's national symbols — but it doesn't exactly endear itself in our urban landscape.

From chomping down trees to blocking waterways that affect water levels and flows, the industrious beaver can wreak havoc on a city's infrastructure. 

On Thursday, a hands-on workshop that included wildlife advocates, conservationists, City of Calgary workers and homeowners, showed new ways to deal with the busy little critters in a humane way, rather than the traditional method of trapping them.

"We're all here today because we believe there are ways to successfully coexist with beavers in the city," said Rachelle Haddock, project manager with the Miistakis Institute.

It's important to find better ways to deal with the busy beaver because it can be beneficial to the environment.

"Part of coexisting with beavers is getting better at understanding how they do their job ... understanding when they respond to things like running water and understanding how to fool them," Haddock said. 

As damaging as they can be, "beavers play a very important role in our ecosystem, including urban areas," says Adrian Nelson, Fur-Bearers wildlife conflict manager.

"They can be extremely beneficial for creating wetlands that are habitat for plants and wildlife, and for storing water during drought or absorbing it during minor floods," he said. 

But another problem is that city-dwelling beavers have no natural predators, which can lead to overpopulation, said Tanya Hope, City of Calgary parks ecologist.

"Their numbers can grow quickly, and they can sometimes cause damage to property or infrastructure. We sometimes need to take measures to prevent damage, and the tools we are learning today will be very valuable to us."

Watch a timelapse of busy beavers working to save a dam with a leveller (Parks Canada)

7 years ago
Duration 0:20
The City of Calgary is highlight techniques on how humans and beavers can successfully co-exist.

Basically, these measures are meant to prevent beavers from doing their busy work, says Nelson.

"All of the strategies make their job a lot harder ... and understanding how to fool them." 

Nelson's Fur Bearers'  showed some of the following strategies during the workshop:

  • Pond levellers: Tubing is extended through a dam and the upstream (or pond) end is sunk with a large cage around it to avoid blockages. Water is allowed to keep flowing through the dam at a desired rate. Water can then continue to flow  at a desired level keeping the beavers in place and mitigating the risk of flooding or infrastructure damage. Beavers can't plug the hole and actually cement the pipe into their dam.
  • Exclusion fences: Heavy gauge fencing in a pentagonal shape forces beavers away from a culvert or other dam locations. They can't cross like they naturally want to, but as they move farther away, their desire to dam (caused by running water) reduces, too.
  • Combo device: A device that uses both pond levellers and exclusion fences in small spaces, connection areas, or shallow zones.

​The aim is that the attendees learn and use the strategies in their own backyards.