Tuesday, April 24, 2007
The beaver attained official status as an emblem of Canada on March 24, 1975. This large rodent was central to the fur trade in this country and it was trapped almost to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries requiring protection in the 1930's. Our nickel bears the image of this industrious little animal.
I am used to seeing muskrats along the river, but this past weekend we noticed a much larger mammal swimming towards us in a pond on the flood plain of the Grand River. It was the first time I had seen a beaver close up in the wild. I have seen many beaver lodges and dams in northern Ontario, but have not seen the architects and inhabitants of them.
This beaver was not concerned about our presence a few feet from the edge of the bank where (s)he climbed out of the water. After taking a few pictures, we walked towards the river and then noticed the beaver lodge. This one is smallish, rather messy and is built on the edge of the pond. Often the lodge is built right in the water. A dam had been built across a small creek adjacent to this pond.
From the size of this tree that was just taken down, it looks as if the beaver is preparing for some spring renovations.
Recently, some beavers were caught making a dam across a creek in the city, on the grounds of one of our universities. Their activity was considered dangerous to humans and the beavers were trapped and killed, angering many of our citizens. The beavers here have wisely chosen a conservation area for their home and are not likely to be evicted.
I read about these animals in Paul Rezendes's book, Tracking and the Art of Seeing. In his chapter on the beaver he writes,
"The beaver has been of great benefit to many wildlife species across North America, as well as to the environment itself. Beaver ponds are important water storage systems, slowing and trapping runoff and releasing it gradually. The silt-laden water slows down in the pond, releasing the heavier particles so the water is clearer downstream, and plant communities established in the sediment help to stabilize the flood plain..."
He also explains how the ponds create a new ecosystem and a place for water birds to feed and rest.
The beaver is no longer endangered here in Canada, but its greatest enemy remains man, who would prefer alter the environment in his own way and dispose of any challenger.