Thursday 30 May 2019

Living with Beavers

A beaver was enjoying a snack in the bushes as we arrived for Saskatoon’s NatureCity Festival paddleboat cruise on The Prairie Lily on May 26, 2019. Apparently, the beavers have a lodge at the dock so there are regular sightings. What really surprised me was to learn that it’s this beaver family that has been active below the Children’s Hospital on the far side of the river. They’re towing the trees they chew down all the way back across the river!

Kenton Lysak, an interpreter with the Meewasin Valley Authority, says the beavers are very savvy. They choose trees high up on a slope so that they can slide them down into the river, using gravity to make their task a little easier. Kenton went on to explain that the City and Meewasin have counted 56 beaver lodges between Saskatoon and the Beaver Creek Conservation Area. That’s a positive sign of a clean, healthy river.

The beavers work together as a unit and can chew down a tree in just a couple of hours. Now, that’s a concern for many nature-lovers as we hate to lose our trees. And, unfortunately, you’re more likely to spot a tree stump than a beaver. But it’s all part of a natural cycle. The removal of a tree creates more light in the understory, allowing native plants and young saplings to have their turn in the sun. The beavers’ favourite meal is poplar, an excellent choice as the tree doesn’t die when its main trunk is removed. Instead, it sends out suckers and develops into a bushy shrub.

We can urge the City of Saskatoon to band some trees to protect them from the beavers, but we need to be careful what we wish for. The City could decide that it is easier to trap and kill a few beavers than to devote human resources to banding the trees. That’s a very short-term solution as beavers are mobile and other beavers will move in to any unclaimed territory. Perhaps the best solution is to recognize that humans are just one of many species inhabiting our river valley. Left undisturbed the coyotes will cull the beavers and maintain a steady population. It’s when humans interfere and disturb the natural cycle that things get out of balance.

If you enjoy seeing beavers by the river, remember to keep your dogs on a leash so they don’t attack the beavers. If you fish, be sure to clean up after yourself and don’t leave fishing line and hooks where they can get swept into the river. Beavers and water birds get tangled in the line and die a very painful death.

We would love to hear about beavers in other Saskatchewan communities, so do send us your stories and we’ll share them with other readers.

Let us know if your community wants to protect its wildlife but is concerned about loss of trees or flooding caused by beavers. EcoFriendly Sask, in co-operation with Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation, will sponsor a free Fur-Bearers’ workshop on healthy coexistence with beavers. The workshop would cover both banding trees and installing flow devices. 

Further information 
10 Surprising Facts About Beavers 

Photo credit: Sean Taylor, Saskatoon Search and Rescue