Living with Beavers

Something was brought to my attention in regards to beavers that prompted this article*. I have been most privileged in my photography career to sit on a bank at the side of a pond on more than one occasion and watch beavers. Watching them during the winter, watching interactions between parent and kit. Listening to a kit crying making I’m hungry noises in a beaver lodge one spring. Oh, how wonderful that was. Sometimes I think I’m the luckiest person to have seen and experienced what I have in my life. With or without a camera in hand. Sitting in silence listening, watching, waiting. Beavers are very quiet in the water unless they are startled in which the slap of that tail can startle the heck out of you when unexpected. Beavers are incredible families.

Their dams are important to our environment, slowing water flow and acting as filters for sediments and important nutrients. They are after all expert architects of the wetlands. And they get very upset if they hear water running. After all, we all hate leaky taps, don’t we? They must fix it. This entails chopping down nice fresh branches or trees with those powerful sharp teeth and swimming them over to the area that needs fixing. And working hard pushing and pulling in and out of the mud and branches to get it into just the right place to plug the leaking water. They keep going until the job at hand is fixed.

I sat one evening trying ever so hard not to keep swatting the black files that wanted me for dinner. Despite my natural bug spray. I can wear a full-out bug suit and they still get to me. But nothing was stopping me from sitting with the beavers that evening. Mom, Dad and one kit. Busy going back and forth to gather material to plug a leaky dam. The baby was precious. He or she was helping. As one parent dragged a leafed branch through the water, the baby would follow. He was helping too. He was tagging along eating the leaves. Mom and Dad were oblivious to the little guy as it was all part of his teachings on how to become a beaver. After all, that was helping, he was taking the weight off the load right! He was learning. Following, watching, participating.

It was adorable. I was sad when my friends and I had to pack up and leave at sunset. And when we left this beaver family was still working. The next day, beavers were resting, their job was done, hole plugged, all was quiet. Kit had learned a valuable lesson that evening. And had a good hardy meal.

To have been a part of that sitting quietly so as not to disturb them is still talked about. How privileged we were to have been allowed to be a part of this family’s chores that evening.

Well if you are lucky to have beavers show up in your pond and you want to stop them from causing any damage, here is what you can do. A beaver doesn’t like to hear running water. And you can stop the running water, and make the beavers happy. Beaver baffles. Now years ago we had a family conservationist club and a family of beautiful beavers lived in a wetland we monitored, so we did our research and we made our own baffles and installed them in the wetland to protect some species at risk there. And the beaver family. It was a battle between township breaking the dam, flooding the wetland over and over, or putting a baffle in. Being where this was by them pulling the dam all the time it assured they always had work. For us, it was destroying species at risk habitat and nesting areas when everything flooded, and to save that family of beavers. We won. We were small but strong and mighty.

We often just stood there watching the beaver family and no way were we allowing the township to get rid of them. That was their next step. This was their home. And we as responsible human beings could help make everyone happy. And in doing so protect the species at risk species who also lived there, by stabilizing the water levels. By stopping the sound of running water. Win-win for all.

Making beaver baffles was easy. Using long pvc pipes, I believe we used 8-inch diameter, drilling holes in the pipes to allow the water to circulate easily. Ends were screened so debris didn’t get in, everything flowed nicely through. Getting some iron rods to put into the silt at both ends making a cradle to hold the pipes in place. Pipes were about 15 to 20 ft long. That was to go through the beaver dam that was about 4 feet wide.

It was a very cold wet snow rain kinda day in April when my son, then a Flemming college student and a buddy also from Flemming went in and fared the freezing water. They had to break up the dam enough to get the baffle through it. Which was fixed as good as new when the job at hand was complete. This was many years ago and that kept that wetland stable and the beavers happy. As long as the beavers don’t hear running water they are happy. The water was running through their dam but was not heard. Therefore stabilizing the water level on both sides. Meaning turtles didn’t lose their basking logs, birds didn’t lose their nests. To the beavers, they didn’t hear water so they were not being destructive. Putting chicken wire around trees you don’t want touched works to protect trees. But all in all, beavers are great at wetland maintenance. Keeping everything healthy. They are the engineers of wetland areas. And are an important species. Families stay together for some years before older siblings will move on to start their own family. But “ disposing “ of them is not the answer. And that is what they do. They do not relocate well.

So if you have a pond on your property, expect wildlife to come and make it their home. After all. A healthy pond will be kept healthier by the life it holds. The hours of enjoyment are wonderful. Don’t fret if beavers come. Just keep them happy. Protect your trees, use beaver bafflers if the need arises. They work. Sit back and enjoy. Because they have chosen your pond, that means you have a very healthy pond. And that is good news. Please help to keep our wildlife safe. Beavers are important and we can make the difference between life and death for them. Coexist. It’s quite simple, do your research. Make it work. I guarantee you will not regret having them as neighbours if you do your part to help them. And for that beaver family, we helped. When we put in the beaver baffles they also came along and put a baffle through the culvert from one side to the other. Beavers raised their little ones year after year and everyone lived in unison. Roads didn’t flood, wetlands didn’t flood. Happy beavers happy everything.

Jen Howard
Procyon volunteer/ wildlife Photographer

Note from the Editor:

Recently, one of our Procyon Wildlife volunteers was heartbroken to learn that the neighbours had shot the beaver family on the adjoining property, due to the beaver dam having flooded their man-made pond. Learning about this after the fact, was particularly disappointing since the simple solution of installing beaver baffles would have saved these precious lives. There are so many more reasonable ways to deal with wildlife, other than their destruction.

The Editor thanks Jennifer Howard for sharing with us her positive and successful experience of installing beaver baffles. In this life, we must do our best to do no harm. There is always a more peaceful option. Thank you, The Editor

Living with Beavers
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