Beavers are more than Canada’s national symbol and our first national currency trading their pelts. They are also wetland engineers. Just look upstream of the north-Fernie bridge, along the Elk River and you will see an incredible dam built this summer. Although cute industrious critters, are beavers actually friend or foe to Canadians?

While these busy rodents amaze many people, others are less impressed and more annoyed by their activity. Beavers fell trees and their dams can, in some instances, flood property that people might prefer to keep dry. So what good are they to us anyway?

The beaver is a semi-aquatic herbivore that cuts down trees to eat the branches and chew off the bark. They also use this material to build dams and lodges, modifying their environment like us, making them a very unique species. Beavers build dams in order to back up water creating a deep pool of water surrounding their home, especially the entrance. This is important, even during times of low water, as exposure poses a security threat to their den. If water levels are low and the entrance exposed, there is a greater risk of predation to the beaver family.

Rising water levels behind dams may be a nuisance to us but have you considered that this water also creates rich and vibrant wetlands, home to an array of different species, increasing the biodiversity and productivity of our watershed. For free, wetland plants filter out toxins and unwanted chemicals, as well as sediment before water flows back into the Elk River, improving water quality.

Beaver dams also increase water storage capacity in our watershed, both above and below ground. They store increased surface water and are capable of raising the ground water table, important in mitigating the effects of drought. Furthermore, beaver dams help reduce the speed and power of moving water, limiting its erosive capacity and allowing more storage, thus buffering flood damage.

These key functions benefit both the watershed and Canada’s largest rodent. This is why community members, local government, small businesses, and Elk River Alliance joined forces to mitigate the potential damaging affects of beavers in Fernie. Together they installed two large, pond-leveling devices to reduce negative effects of increased surface water: one in the West Fernie wetland and the second one at the McDougal Wetland north of Maiden Lake.

These devices are designed to allow water to flow through the beaver dam and maintain water levels that are beneficial for the beavers while controlling unwanted flooding to upstream property.

“We hope this solution will help reduce damage water is causing to turf at the Fernie Golf Course,” says Ray Bryant, Maintenance Superintendent.

ERA trained several BC Wildlife Federation Wetlandkeepers at a 2.5 day course in October and then coordinated these new volunteers to install the devices.

“By working together the community of Fernie was able find a way to live with these furry engineers and reap all the benefits of having them in our watershed,” said Beth Millions, ERA Program Coordinator.

In addition to the community volunteers, the Elk River Alliance would like to thank our project partners and funders for their contribution of time, expertise, resources and funds. Shout out to: The Fur-Bearers (Alberta), Cows and Fish (Alberta), Valley Vitals, Taylor/MacDonald Ltd., Wildsight Elk Valley Branch, Align Surveys Ltd., Federal Government – Environment and Climate Change Canada Funding, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, City of Fernie and Teck.

The Elk River Alliance (ERA) is a community-based water group dedicated to connecting people to the Elk River watershed keeping it drinkable, fishable and swimmable for future generations. For more information call Beth Millions, Program Coordinator at (250) 423-3322 or info@elkriveralliance.ca

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