BLOG #730: Londoners owe the beaver much more than a bit of space along some neglected creek. This industrious rodent is a good part of the reason there’s a country called Canada here at all. Which makes it all the more shameful that the city which really knows how to pay homage to the beaver isn’t even in Canada; it’s in California.
Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 – London
It’s difficult to imagine what this country would look like today if it hadn’t been for the beaver.
Oh there would have been a country, perhaps several of them, north of the 49th parallel – although in truth, the border line would probably be somewhere above Edmonton.
And that land up there north of the United States, marked on an early Hudson’s Bay map as a place where “There be dragons,” might in fact still be a series of First Nations territories, wealthier now with the exploitation of the north’s mineral riches.
The beaver, though, changed everything. Starting with fur traders who first arrived, interestingly, from the north through Hudson’s Bay, the quest for beaver pelts helped open up the vast northern frontier to European exploration and exploitation, to conquest and, ultimately, Canada.
According to Heritage Canada, there were an estimated six million beavers in what is now Canada before the start of the fur trade. During its peak, 100,000 pelts were being shipped to Europe each year and the animal, our largest rodent, was almost whiped out.
For all its historic connections, though, the beaver doesn’t get much respect in this country. Oh yes, it’s was the image on our first stamp and it’s on the back on our five cent piece. But mostly though, hated as it is almost universally by landowners from coast to coast for its amazing engineering abilities, the beaver has been treated shabbily and often harassed relentlessly.
Today in London, in fact, a pair of beavers are said to be holding hundreds of acres of housing and commercial development hostage, their weapons two small dams on a creek in Hyde Park that doesn’t even have an official name. City maps give it the somewhat pejorative moniker Stanton Drain.
The latest plan, on hold only while council considers whether ‘humane’ treatment includes trapping and moving the beavers, would sanction bulldozing their existing home in a natural heritage area, then gouging the creek two metres deeper and lining it so beavers could never build there again.
This construction, at a cost of about $2 million, would also eliminate habitat for a host of mammals, reptiles and birds.
Unhappily, there aren’t many Canadian communities where the authorities would think that treatment harsh. If the goal in life is to turn green fields and forests into backyards and barbeques, then beavers are a dam nuisance.
Not everyone thinks so, of course, even in cities – although ironically, the city which seems to pay the beaver most homage is in California.
Martinez, a community of 36,000, is just east of San Francisco. According to a Wikipedia entry, in 2007 a group of beavers settled in a section of Alhambra Creek that flows through the city and built a six-foot-high dam. Worried the dam created flood hazard, city officials proposed moving the group. Instead a committee was formed to consider alternatives.
The end result was installation of a flow device that could reduce the level of water behind the dam and mitigate the flood risk. The beavers were allowed to stay.
And then, well, they became a huge tourist attraction. Their engineering has transformed Alhambra Creek, attracting steelhead trout, river otters and mink. The Martinez beavers also have a website where, would you believe it, news about the fight faced by London’s beavers was top news on Sunday.
Flow devices, by the way, are available to municipalities everywhere. They cost less than $500 to install. They work, too.
It is really possible that with a little imagination, a little concern for our fellow creatures, a little engineering ingenuity, we could let the beavers stay where they are, eliminate the flood threat that would permit some development and save $1,999,500 in the process?
Nah. That would take imagination, concern and ingenuity – something London says it has but too rarely shows.
To be continued.