Beavers impact on forest and industry 'dam' complicated

Balancing the impact of beavers and their dams on the ecosystem and industry is a complicated process, according to a retired Lakehead University biologist.

Beaver ponds offer habitat to wildife but can cause flooding on logging roads say experts

Some beaver dams in northwestern Ontario can be extremely large, as is shown in this photo. (Don Barnes)

Balancing the impact of beavers and their dams on the ecosystem and industry is a complicated process, according to a retired Lakehead University biologist.

The comments from Don Barnes come after an Alberta mining company was fined $1,500 for destroying a dam near Savant Lake in northwestern Ontario. 

Barnes said the beaver plays a crucial role in the ecology of the boreal forest because more than any other animal, it creates its own environment. 
Don Barnes is a retired biologist at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. He's also a trapper. (Don Barnes/Lakehead University)

He said the ponds they engineer also become habitat for other species.

'It creates water'

"It creates water, where there wasn't water before so ducks get in there, muskrats. And all those dead trees that are flooded, they become homes for the woodpecker and pine marten," said Barnes 

Michael Runtz said the beaver pools are also vital to the health of moose.

Runtz is a wildlife photographer and lecturer at Carleton University.

His latest book, 'Dam Builders: A Natural History of Beavers and Their Ponds', will be published in Feb. 2015.

Runtz said the edges of beaver ponds are the preferred habitat for many sodium-rich plants.

He said moose are particularly drawn to these salty treats.
Michael Runtz has written, and provided the photographs for the new book "Dam Builders: The Natural History of Beavers and Their Ponds." It will be available on Feb. 1, 2015. (Carleton University)

"And I dare say, if we didn't have beavers and beaver ponds in the boreal forest, we'd have a paucity of moose. Moose get most of their sodium from plants growing in beaver ponds."

'Beaver ponds still thrive'

Runtz said the water behind the dam also serves as a reservoir.

"In times of drought, which are becoming more frequent as we experience climate change, it's been found that beaver ponds help retain water tables and so if we have an extended period with no rain at all, and things are drying up, areas near beaver ponds still thrive," said Runtz. 

Runtz said anytime a dam is destroyed if affects not only the beavers, but all the species living in the water, and in the surrounding forest.

He said he`s glad to see the importance of beaver dams being recognized through the laying of a fine by the MNRF.

Barnes said although people sometimes break up dams on their own property, it is illegal.

However, he said the MNRF occasionally asks trappers, like him, to remove beavers from an area, if their dams are causing flooding problems, especially on logging roads

"Unfortunately with companies trying to make a go of it, beaver are taking out their arteries of transportation. If we could find a way to keep beaver away from those roads, we wouldn't have to destroy them. But there's no way they have found that they can do that yet," said Barnes.

"It's not a simple issue. There's pluses and minuses," Barnes added. 

Runtz said he would like to see some accommodations made for beavers.

"I realize that all through the boreal forest we have mining interests, and logging interests but we also have to consider the natural history values as well. Beaver ponds are an important fabric in the mosaic of habitats in the boreal forest," said Runtz.


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