After my recent visit to the Cross Conservation Area, I wanted to learn more about the relationship between beavers and wetlands. My investigation quickly led me to this video clip on CBC player, featuring Glynnis Hood making a strong case for the beaver as an eco-friend. Her short presentation inspired me to search out The Beaver Manifesto, recently published by Rocky Mountain Books.
I have a confession to make. I often struggle to finish non-fiction books. But since this one comes in at just over a hundred pages, I gamely opened to the Prologue and began reading. Just 2 days later, I joined Glynnis Hood in taking my hat off to the tenacity of the beaver.
Here are a few of the details I found most fascinating:
- “By the time early hominid ancestors appeared, just short of 5 million years ago, early beavers had already learned to cut wood and build homes.”
- The Last Ice Age compelled beavers to hone their skills at building dams, digging deep channels at the bottoms of their ponds, and caching food.
- Beaver pelts were an essential part of the early fur trade that led to the exploration and settlement of much of Canada. Hudson’s Bay Company records show that from 1769 to 1868, more than 4.7 million beaver pelts reached Britain. This tally excludes the great number of pelts that did not “make the grade” and were discarded. In some areas of North America, the fur trade completely wiped out the indigenous beaver populations.
- Recent research, including field research by Dr. Glynnis Hood, shows important relationships between beavers and water. It seems that beaver dams and ponds are essential to the re-creation, health and biodiversity of our wetlands. And beavers’ water engineering skills can help ranchers and farmers ensure access to water even during times of extreme drought.
Dr. Hood really got me thinking about why it is that on the rare occasion people spend a minute or two thinking about beavers, many of us think strictly in terms of “the beaver problem”. She highlights two main points of contention between humans and beavers. First, we really don’t like it when beaver dams flood roads, trails and other spots we don’t want to see underwater. Fortunately, researchers have managed to develop a special relief valve that can be put in place to control the water level in beavers’ ponds – and it’s much less expensive and time-consuming than trapping / relocating, using dynamite and other conventional methods of getting rid of “the beaver problem”. The second major point of contention is the beavers’ propensity to bring down trees – sometimes onto our homes or cabins or in our favourite city park. A wire cages around the base of a tree offers at least some protection.
The North American beaver (Castor canadensis) is one of Canada’s national symbols. Last fall, Conservative Senator Nicole Eaton tried to oust the beaver in favour of the polar bear. In fact, the beaver is one of the “big three” wild animals nature tourists look for in Canada (the other two being the bear and the moose). Yet the beaver represents more than the wilderness so valued by Canadians. “It is a symbol of hard work, tenacity, duty – all values strongly supported by Canadians.”
On the eve of Canada’s 145th birthday, I think it’s well worth spending a few minutes thinking about the beavers’ “persistent drive to sustain water on the landscape”. As fresh water resources become increasingly precious, we may just have something to learn from our national symbol.
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a quick, engaging read that shares some eye-popping facts about one of our most-recognized national symbols.
RECOMMENDED: For those with an interest in nature, the water cycle, Canadian history and – of course – beavers!
The Beaver Manifesto is available in e-book format from the usual sites. For those who prefer their books in printed format, visit your favourite book store or order online directly from Rocky Mountain Books. As for me, I’ll be donating a copy to the Calgary Science School library, for reference by teachers and students involved in the field study around the reintroduction of beavers to the Cross Conservation Area.