Beavers make comeback at Cross Conservation Area
Thursday, Nov 29, 2012 10:58 am
Canada’s national animal has been brought back to the Cross Conservation Area and they’ve been as busy as, well, beavers.
A family of beavers introduced in a pond in the conservation area earlier this month wasted little time settling into their new home. Within 48 hours they had built a den and were collecting food for the coming winter.
“They have a high level of comfort and built a good den,” said Greg Shyba, Cross Conservation Area CEO.
A total of seven beavers were reintroduced to the conservation area this year in an attempt to re-establish the animal in the headwaters of the Pine Creek and to study their impacts on watershed areas.
Shyba said recent studies have identified beavers can benefit watershed areas.
Not only do they provide habitat for fish and wildlife, he said beavers also change the flow of streams, help to recharge groundwater aquifers and slow the release of water downstream.
“The theory is that if you were to allow more beaver activity in the upper watersheds, you would change the whole flow regime of the Bow River, so there’d be more water coming down later in the summer,” he said.
The beavers were reintroduced to two ponds at the upper reaches of Pine Creek in the conservation area. Three were introduced in Rothney Pond on the north arm of the Pine Creek earlier this month, and four were introduced in Goodwin Pond on the south arm earlier this summer.
Shyba said the two areas chosen have ample food supply and will give the animals protection from predators.
A number of logs were placed at the Goodwin Pond release site to help the beavers get established. In both locations, the beavers have built dens on the banks of the ponds and they have become well established and appear ready for the winter.
He said there are no plans to bring in any more beavers and the focus will now be on habitat management.
The beavers aren’t expected to travel too far in the coming years.
“We’re at the headwater of the Pine Creek, so there’s really no where for them to go upstream,” said Shyba. “They could eventually go downstream, but it’ll be many years probably before they will feel compelled to do that.”
He also said there are obstacles making their migration further east difficult. Shyba points to large fences on the perimeter of a bison ranch on the east side of the conservation area, saying they will make it tough for them to move east.
The Cross Conservancy is also working in partnership with the Miistakis Institute and the Cows and Fish Program of the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society to research the beaver’s impact.
Before the beavers were reintroduced, surveys were done of the watershed area to see what kind of impact the beavers have over time. The changes in the watershed will be monitored over the next three years in conjunction with students from the Calgary Science School.
“They’ll be looking at changes to the riparian area for plants and animals as well as water quality,” said Shyba.
So far, the project as received more than $100,000 in donations to fund the work.
At one time there were as many as 77 beavers in the area.
However, Shyba said their numbers eventually dwindled and there haven’t been any in the conservation area for as long as 15 years.
It’s not known what happened to them.
“We’re not sure whether they were shot or trapped, or predated because we have a number of cougars and bears on the property and cougars like to target beavers for their food,” he said.
For some, beavers are considered a nuisance – capable of damaging trees and damning up streams damaging roads in the process.
Foothills MD Coun. Suzanne Oel said she hopes the research will result in new ways to manage beaver populations.
She said the MD has had a number of issues with beavers across the foothills this year, but not at the conservation area.
Oel said beavers can pose problems by clogging up culverts, increasing the risk of damage to MD roads.
“It’s really expensive to repair the damage that takes place when they clog culverts,” she said.
She also said the MD will work to prevent damage to infrastructure and it won’t let beaver damage become a problem for residents on private lands near the conservation area.
That said, Oel doesn’t have any concerns about the beavers at the conservation area. She’s confident the area’s management plan for the beavers is suitable.
“I see it as an interesting opportunity, a great science experiment on a large scale,” she said.
The MD is also testing a new type of culvert designed to prevent beavers from plugging it up. If it proves effective, she said it could be used around the conservation area.
In the long run, she said the results of the beaver study at the conservation area could be valuable to help guide the reintroduction of beavers to areas in the far west of the MD.