A national wildlife protection charity based in British Columbia is urging the City of Airdrie to reconsider how it is handling a troublesome beaver colony in Nose Creek.
Lesley Fox, the executive director of the Fur-Bearers organization, penned a letter to Airdrie City council last week asking the municipal representatives to no longer trap and euthanize beavers that are considered a nuisance.
“While beavers and their damming activities can present many challenges to communities, beavers also bring many ecological and social benefits,” the letter stated. “Beavers increase biodiversity (including fish populations) and their wetlands can help absorb carbon.”
Fox’s letter cited a recent peer-reviewed study that found scientists have valued beavers’ environmental services at close to $179,000 per square mile annually.
“They are incredible animals and co-existing with beavers is worth your time and consideration,” she wrote.
“We implore the City of Airdrie to prioritize non-lethal alternatives such as flow devices and exclusion fencing to protect waterways, culverts and trees. When properly installed, these techniques are cost-effective, long-lasting and require little maintenance. They are also scientifically proven and used in cities across North America.”
When reached for an interview, Fox said residents of Airdrie whose homes back onto Nose Creek, had reached out to the Fur-Bearers with complaints that City employees have been lethally trapping beavers in the nearby waterway.
The City of Airdrie outlines its protocols for handling beavers in its Integrated Pest Management Plan. According to that document, beavers will often make their way to Airdrie via Nose Creek, searching for new areas to start a colony.
To deter the animals from damaging trees along creek beds, City employees wrap wire mesh around tree trunks, but “this is not always successful.”
“In instances where beavers result in unacceptable damage to the natural environment and/or infrastructure, the City may lethally remove individuals by trapping,” the plan stated.
Eugene Lund, the manager for the City’s public works and parks operations department, confirmed the municipality occasionally euthanizes beavers as a last resort, when the animals overpopulate and cause property damage.
He said the City started monitoring the situation in Waterstone last year, after a concern about beavers was brought forward by a resident of the area.
“What was occurring at that point was some beavers had taken up residence in one of the lodges of the Waterstone area and they were cutting down some mature trees,” he said.
Lund said City staff replaced the trees that the beavers had brought down, and to prevent damage to the remaining trees, wrapped wire mesh around the trunks.
Despite those efforts, he said beavers in the area continued to bring down the trees this summer.
“Destruction of the trees is costly to the taxpayers,” he said. “Just on the basis of that, we did make the decision to remove those beavers in Nose Creek after all other options were exhausted.”
Lund stressed the City isn’t culling beavers, and has left other colonies in the Nose Creek corridor that aren’t causing property damage alone.
“Generally speaking, we only remove beavers when preventative measures have been implemented but haven’t been effective,” he said.
According to Lund, the City has inquired previously to Alberta Fish and Wildlife about the possibility of relocating problem beavers, but the City was told relocation is often not feasible, as beavers are quite territorial and can spread disease to other colonies when moved elsewhere.
“In terms of how we handle it from there, as I said, we didn’t have too many other options we could move forward with at this time,” he said.
But Fox said using lethal trapping is an outdated method and there are various alternative methods to protect waterways, culverts, and trees from beaver populations.
“Quite simply, there are proven scientific methods for co-existing with beavers, and I’m surprised the City of Airdrie hasn’t investigated those options,” she said. “I find that short-sighted, not only because of the benefits beavers can bring to our communities, but they’re more cost-effective.
“These devices can be implemented with a fair bit of ease," she added. “They last for over 10 years with little maintenance, they’re a proven technique across the country. There’s a real benefit to using them. Examples would be pond levellers, beaver bafflers, beaver deceivers, and simple exclusion fencing.”
According to Lund, the City will be contracting an environmental expert to conduct an assessment to determine if the beaver colony in Waterstone is sustainable.
“We have made some overtures to have that work done thus far,” he said. “It’s not something we’re putting on our to-do list. It’s something we want to have done sooner rather than later to make some determinations about whether trying to maintain a population of beaver in that area is sustainable or not.”
As of writing, Fox said the Fur-Bearers have not yet heard a response from the City about their recent letter. She said she hopes council will consider implementing alternative methods for beaver management, considering one of council’s strategic focus areas is environmental protection.
“All those tools exist and I want to make it easy for the City to co-exist with beavers,” she said. “It can be done and I’ve seen it myself.
“Killing wildlife with lethal traps, not only is it cruel and unnecessary, it’s just dated. It’s a very 1980s approach. There are better solutions and I hope Airdrie gives them favourable consideration.”