The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals is urging the Township to use alternative beaver management methods, after a dead beaver was found inside a trap in Gloucester last month.
Rather than trapping beavers — which according to Adrian Nelson, wildlife conflict manager with the Fur-Bearers, has only a 16 per cent success rate — a “long term solution” is using flow devices, such as pond levellers or exclusion fences.
Pond levellers are large pipes that allow water to flow through existing beaver dams, while exclusion fencing prevents beavers from accessing culverts or bridges.
“This is not new technology; they have been around for over 20 years, they are incredibly successful,” Nelson told Township council at its Feb. 20 evening meeting.
“When they are implemented properly we have a success rate of between 90 and 97 per cent, and that is over a 10-year period.”
The devices cost $400 to $600 in materials and take two people about half a day to install. They require maintenance twice per year, which usually consists of removing debris or garbage build-up. Nelson said the devices are much more cost-effective than repeatedly calling in trappers, or taking apart dams.
The Fur-Bearers also offer free training programs to municipal staff on how to implement and build the systems properly, having successfully worked with Mission, Coquitlam, Bowen Island, Surrey, Richmond, and even the Township of Langley.
“What’s really upsetting for me is to have to be back here in front of Township, because we’ve actually dealt with Township before on this. We’ve actually worked with the Township on putting flow devices in place,” Nelson said.
“The problem is, (staff) moves on, some of the departments maybe aren’t communicating well, this knowledge gets lost.”
What it ultimately boils down to, Nelson said, is a “weak” beaver management policy. He compared the Township’s policy to Mission and Surrey, which both include more details about other management practices, besides trapping.
Coun. David Davis, who has dealt with beavers on his farm many times, said he is concerned that during a rain event, a pipe through a beaver dam may not be able to handle the water coming through, and flooding would result, causing damage and costing the Township a lot of money. He believes in some cases, the beavers have to be removed.
Davis has also been told that the Township is saturated with beavers, which are very territorial animals, and asked weather relocation is successful.
Nelson replied that it can actually be easier to manage an established colony of beavers than a new colony. Established beavers have fewer offspring and tend to prey on smaller, new growth trees as opposed to large trees that are needed for building their lodges and dams.
Coun. Charlie Fox questioned Nelson’s claims that the Township’s beaver management policy is weak, sparking a heated debate.
“I have to say that our staff, and I will say this unequivocally, our staff are well versed in pond levellers, fences, all of those things,” Fox said. “I don’t know why this situation (in Gloucester) happened — there’s a reason, everything happens for a reason … I believe our staff did do, prior to, significant work in this particular water management area.
“In fact, right now in the Township of Langley, there are 20 active sites where beaver management is taking place. Have you checked any of those to see if pond levellers are in place, those sorts of things?”
Nelson replied: “Our qualms are not with staff. Like I said, we’ve worked with staff quite closely. Our qualms are with a council policy that basically says if there’s no effective means, but it doesn’t say what other effective means there should be.”
Coun. Kim Richter asked what the most humane method of trapping is, if there is a case where other beaver management methods do not work.
Nelson recommended live trapping, using a Hancock trap. That way if another animal other than a beaver gets into that trap, it can be released and won’t be killed.
Nelson’s delegation was followed by a presentation from Jim Armstrong, a biologist and president of the Nicomekl Enhancement Society.
Armstrong, too, talked about beaver management practices, and noted that he is currently working on industrial sites in Mission where the beavers are being successfully integrated into the development.
“Beavers are just an indication of the ecosystem and are part of development. And we have to move forward. We have to realize that the beavers are keystone species, they are recognized as part of Canada’s 150-year celebration, and they’re going to be around,” he said.
“How do we balance our development with management of the natural ecosystems? It can be done. Are we doing a good job? And that’s what we’re trying to raise to council’s opinion.”
Several councillors shared comments, including Bob Long, who said one of the challenges appears to be dealing with beavers on private lands.
“I think it’s just a matter of continually reminding private landowners that there are different ways of dealing with this, and also realizing the complicated ecosystems that we’re dealing with here, especially the Township of Langley,” Long said.
“We’re so unique, and having all this land, that’s why we have all these issues.”
“Our land is very diverse in the Township here, and it’s very valuable,” Armstrong replied.
“And I think that that’s what the council needs to recognize, is the value of that land, not only for development, but also to the citizens.”