October 29th, 2014 ~ Vol. 84 No. 42
Halifax teeming (but not teaming)
with beavers
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page

*After an investigation into urban beaver populations, I wrote this article for the now defunct online publication Openfile Halifax in 2012.

Urban wildlife leaves much to be desired, right? I mean the first critters you see when strolling through town are probably those freeloading pigeons, or beefy harbour rats or maybe a god-awful skunk, but beavers?
Yes, beavers. As it turns out the HRM is teeming with Canada’s national animal and they’re quite the urban planners. They dam creeks, flood patches of ground and build lodges to raise their young and ensure an adequate supply of food; their munchy of choice is bark.
Never mind that Canadian senator Nicole Eaton is calling for a national “emblem makeover” by replacing our industrious rodent with the polar bear – beavers in the HRM face far more serious troubles.
Sometimes their building plans lead them into conflict of interest with us humans, a fact that is leaving a legacy of dead or displaced city beavers.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, the province has killed 43 nuisance beavers within the HRM since 1999.
Terry White, a wildlife technician for the DNR, says most beaver complaints come from citizens who’ve lost ornamental trees; these serve as food and shelter for beavers.
A much more serious threat is their damming activity, which can cause flooding. White says flooded beaver ponds can threaten roads, rail lines, residential homes and the city’s overburdened sewage system.
The CBC reports a group of Ontarian farmers is declaring war on the beavers of the Rideau Canal after their dams caused thousands of acres of land to flood.
White says any citizen with a beaver problem has to call the DNR to obtain a Nuisance Wildlife Permit. The Department then contracts the job out to a Nuisance Wildlife Officer, who carries out the trapping. It’s illegal to trap a beaver or tear down a dam without a permit.
Bob Binns, an NWO, has a license to trap fur-bearing animals. He recently discovered a colony of beavers living on the shores of Cranberry Lake in Dartmouth. On a recent visit to the lake, Binns stood on the beaver lodge, surveying the colony busily preparing for winter. Sensing danger one of the beavers gave the water an emphatic whack with its tail.

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“You see that? They slap their tails to warn the other beavers of impending danger,” says Binns without a hint of irony.
Binns says he’s trapped about a dozen beavers in his four years on the job, mostly in the Annapolis Valley. His method is to set traps in the beaver pond which he secures underwater to make sure the animal doesn’t resurface. Binns says it’s wet and tiring work. Once he traps a beaver he collects the carcass and sells its pelt to a furrier. He makes about $30 per pelt and charges his customers $1200 per beaver removal contract.
Binns only traps nuisance beavers and since nobody has complained to the DNR yet, the colony in Cranberry Lake is safe.
In lieu of killing the unwanted animals, some NWOs will catch and relocate them to another body of water. But, according to a 2010 report from the DNR, this “is seldom justified in Nova Scotia.”
Aside from being difficult, time consuming and costly, a high beaver population means there is almost no place for the captures animals to make new homes.
“Relocation is not some magic wand,” says Mike Boudreau, a human wildlife conflict biologist. “You can’t take an animal out of its habitat and throw it into another and expect things to work out.”
Boudreau says beavers are highly territorial creatures that do not take kindly to intruders. This species of urban wildlife behaves like and urban gang, they’ll fight off rivals that try to invade their turf. These encounters can be extremely violent.
Some human residents are also reluctant to have beavers in their backyards.
“The problem is, where do you relocate these things,” says Doug Orr, information technologist for the DNR. “Most people really don’t want them dumped into their streams.”
The DNR report lists a number of non-lethal steps for controlling beaver activity including setting up temporary electric fences near dams, water-level control pipes, wire mesh tree-protectors and culvert guards.
Destroying the dam is an option, but there’s the likelihood the busy beavers will rebuild.
The report asks citizens to consider the positive aspects of having beavers for neighbours. Beaver dams are excellent filters for water-borne toxins and their ponds provide important sources of water and prime habitat for many other species.
Despite this encouragement, there is little resistance to beaver trapping in the HRM, “they’re far from an endangered species,” says Orr.

October 29th ~ Vol. 84 No. 42
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