A beaver spotted in the Elk River, Fernie. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Elk River Alliance makes beavers their friends

Beavers can be a real pain.

They flood golf courses, the fell trees; they can completely change the landscape of someone’s property.

The traditional solution is to simply rid of them—but the Elk River Alliance says that there’s a better solution for these animals, who also provide critical benefits to the ecosystem.

The group has launched an initiative called Accepting Beavers and enhancing Wetlands, which is a partnership with the City of Fernie to enhance the McDougall Wetland, as well as the West Fernie Wetland.

Both are home to beavers, who have dammed off portions of the lands.

The beaver dam at the McDougall wetland caused flooding at the Fernie Golf and Country Club.

“Beavers are rather vilified creatures,” said Lee-Ann Walker, with the Elk River Alliance. “They create problems for landowners.”

She says that while many see the animals as nothing short of a nuisance, they in fact provide key benefits to wetlands.

The dams act as sediment filters, and habitats for many beneficial insects like dragon flies and even juvenile fish.

“How do we learn to live with beavers and use beavers to our benefit?” she said.

The solution is a device called a pond-leveling device.

The mechanism is a pipe that allows water to flow through the dam, with caging around it so the beavers can’t stop the flow.

The ERA partnered with the City of Fernie to purchase two of these devices, which were installed in each of the wetlands.

“It’s a balancing act,” said Walker, explaining that the device manages the water, protects the beavers and satisfies landowners.

The group is also wrapping trees with wire in order to prevent beavers from felling them.

“We’re humans, we have bigger brains than beavers—can’t we outsmart them?” said Walker. “Pond leveling devices are a much better solution.”

She says that as rodents, they’re difficult to eradicate. She says that residents should also avoid breaking out beaver dams not only because the beavers come back and build it twice as large, but because the dams are highly beneficial to wetland ecosystems.

“They’re not doing it because they want to make your life difficult,” she said. “We’re not going to get rid of beavers. Let’s just learn to live with them.”

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