The Stittsville wetlands beaver family may not survive if moved

(Near the lookout on the Trans Canada Trail, this is a beaver family member located in one of the ponds at the Stittsville wetlands. A local group are concerned for their survival should they be moved or trapped with the planned Trail maintenance to take place. All beaver photos at the wetlands: Sylvie Sabourin)

The routine trapping of beavers by the City of Ottawa has been controversial in Stittsville and across the city. Numerous concerned residents have been in touch with Stittsville Central in the past few days about the fact that the beavers in the wetlands, just south of the Trans Canada Trail lookout, are in peril. It was the recent announcement that maintenance will be performed along the Trans Canada Trail that spurred these concerns and raised the ire of these residents. Stage 2 of the maintenance along the Hazeldean Drain is slated to start in September or October (weather relying) whereby brush will be removed along the drain to allow equipment access in the future and the removal of the beaver dams. The work is to be performed between the Trans Canada Trail and the Trail lookout.

(The Trans Canada Trail-Hazeldean Drain area slated for maintenance. Map: City of Ottawa)

If the work starts during this timeframe and the beavers have had their kits and are moved – the family won’t survive the winter! Beavers are extremely territorial. Wildlife, such as beavers, can only be moved within a 1km radius of their original habitat as per the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources regulations. The beavers will return should they survive. Beaver mate for life and form strong bonds with their family. Kits stay with the parents for two years, learning how to build lodges and dams, and help to raise the new offspring before leaving to find a mate and create a habitat of their own.

You may recall, in November, 2011, beavers took up residence in the Paul Lindsay Park storm water management pond in Stittsville. They were damming up the pond and chopping down trees to build new lodges, as the City was destroying each new lodge they had constructed. The beaver adults, named Lily and Lucky by a Stittsville youth, continued to rebuild their lodges for their young kits, until one day in July, Lucky the Dad disappeared. Lily would have to protect her young family on her own.

A group of concerned residents, who had been watching the pair during the summer and fall of 2011, rose to the defence of the beavers by protesting at City Hall, bombarding the Mayor and local Councillor at the time, Shad Qadri, with emails, phone calls and letters. A petition was started that quickly had 1,700 signatures, and media were covering the story from across Canada. Thanks to the persistence of these residents, the City halted the planned trapping of the Paul Lindsay Park beavers at least in the short term – over the winter season. This gave the City time to consider alternative methods to deal with the beavers in the spring and to appease the concerned residents. Sadly, alternative methods were not to be. On June 29, 2012, the City destroyed the lodge built by Lily and Lucky. There may have been babies and Lily could be seen trying desperately to rebuild her lodge the next day.

(This is Lily on June 30, 2012 rebuilding her lodge in the Paul Lindsay Park storm water pond. Photo: Anita Utas)

One of the concerned residents, Anita Utas, who was a lead during the 2011 action to save the beavers, reached out to Stittsville Central, along with several of her allies and other individuals. They have contacted us to express their concerns of the clear-cutting to take place along the Trans Canada Trail, that leaves behind young trees as stumps, and the removal of the wetland beavers.

Anita and others in the group feel that the Trans Canada Trail in Stittsville goes through a very important wetland that must be protected and maintained, and beaver provide an exceptional service at no cost. The trail has not flooded and the beaver pose no threat to people, dogs or wildlife. It doesn’t make sense that this trapping is repeatedly done, even more than once a year. They want to know – could it be that the City or landowners want the wetlands drained to develop the area?

The group is upset by the fact that the City continues to trap and kill the beaver when the use of cost effective and humane flow devices and beaver baffles could be used. They make the point that it is our tax dollars that support the hiring of trappers to continuously kill beaver in our waterways and wetlands. It is a vicious cycle because beaver will simply keep returning. Snares are illegal, so trappers use the inhumane conibear traps that literally crush the beaver to death. Their immediate death is not imminent – it can take a long time, and is the reason that trappers arrive early in the morning to remove the dead beaver.

Anita tells us, “given climate change and the increased risk of flooding and drought, beaver play a vital role. Beavers create and maintain wetlands. Wetlands are like huge sponges that absorb rainfall and control water in streams and rivers. Wetlands are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth and they provide habitat for over 600 species in Canada. Glynnis Hood, the lead author of an extensive study on the effects of drought, says that ‘Removal of beaver should be considered an environmental disturbance on par with in-filling, peat mining and industrial water extraction’. Beaver have recently been re-introduced in Scotland and England, in an effort to create healthy ecosystems.”

Catherine Clysdale, another concerned resident, told us, “the City did place a beaver baffle along the Trans Canada Trail to rectify the problem, but it was not installed correctly, nor maintained properly so fell into disrepair. It may even have been removed by the City. The issue is that the City needs to have an expert, not Michel Leclair who did the Gatineau baffles that are outdated, to help them learn how to do it properly. But they refused help from Mike McIntosh, a guy in the USA who does this for a living. He offered to come to Ottawa for free!”

With the rising concerns about our Stittsville wetland beaver, we reached out to Councillor Gower via email and asked, “what was the status of the situation with the maintenance and if the City was planning to kill the beavers or is a plan in place to relocate them?”

Councillor Gower was quick to get back with a lengthy response, “I don’t know 100% what approach is being taken as part of the Trans Canada Trail/Municipal Drain Work. The note I have from the City is that there are two beaver dams that need to be removed because it is interfering with infrastructure.” He also noted that, “Further up the trail (heading towards Jinkinson), there was a dam removed – likely by one of the private property owners along the trail. The beaver remains – I saw him/her swimming in the pond when I was out on my bike on Tuesday evening. They are fascinating creatures to watch.”

This additional background on the City’s approach to the beaver situation was provided by the Councillor:

  1. Let it be. Do not disturb a beaver dam or wildlife.
  2. If a beaver dam is interfering with stormwater management or posing a flood risk to homes, buildings, roads, parks or other infrastructure, first step is to remove the beaver dam. Sometimes the beavers move on to a new location; sometimes the beavers rebuild.
  3. If there’s an ongoing problem, as a last resort beavers may be removed. The City hires a professional trapping company. They may be relocated or they may be killed, depending on the situation.

Councillor Gower also noted, “I’ve spoken extensively to Nick Stowe about beavers over the past couple of years. He’s a biologist and the City’s senior natural planner, and a resource for all things related to nature and wildlife.

What I’ve learned from him is that Ottawa has a thriving beaver population. Usually they pose no risk or hazard. They are good for biodiversity, for creating habitat for species at risk, for reducing flooding risks at a watershed scale, and for resilience to climate change. The City is continuing to acquire large areas of Ottawa’s natural landscape for conservation of habitat for beavers and other wildlife: more than 100 km2 and growing. We protect a much larger area through protective land use designations and zoning.

As an alternative to removing dams and trapping, the City is looking at alternatives to trapping, like beaver bafflers and pond levelers. Unfortunately they don’t work everywhere. For example, they do not work where the terrain is very flat and beavers can easily rebuild upstream or downstream. And they do not work where we need to maintain prescribed water elevations, such as storm water facilities and many municipal drains. That’s a situation that applies to much of the Hazeldean Drain area,” Councillor Gower ended.

Catherine Clysdale provided a further comment, “I met with Kate, from Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre (OCWC), and we walked the trail to the lookout. I feel there is no hope…in our particular case here in Stittsville, we think the beavers have been killed already. Ann Swanwick said she has not seen any activity since July. The City sneaks in when they think they can. At the other end of Ottawa, the same situation is going on.” Lester the beaver is causing quite a stir in the Sawmill Creek neighbourhood.

The group of residents are concerned for the beaver’s welfare are worried that it may be too late. Anita added, “The trapper usually sets his traps late at night, on rainy nights and collects the bodies early in the morning just at sunrise so no one is around. I suspect that those poor beaver will be trapped any day.”

The fight for the beavers in 2011 quickly picked up steam and in no time this group of concerned residents became a lobby group to save the beavers. This can happen again in short time should the beavers and their lodges be removed in the wetlands. Without wetlands and city waterways, where are the beaver to live?

If you have concerns about the beaver families out in our Stittsville wetlands, send them to Councillor Gower and Mayor Watson. Our local concerned citizens would be pleased to know there are many who support the beaver.


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