Leave it to beavers

Ted Shepherd is fed up with beavers destroying the trees along the Yukon River. The industrious rodents are wreaking havoc along the riverfront, especially in the Spook Creek area.

Ted Shepherd is fed up with beavers destroying the trees along the Yukon River.

The industrious rodents are wreaking havoc along the riverfront, especially in the Spook Creek area.

“No one’s controlling the beaver population down there, and it’s getting out of hand,” said Shepherd, a Whitehorse resident for the past two decades.

Several dozen stumps dot the area, with beavers’ teeth marks clearly visible in the bark. More trees lie on the ground.

It just doesn’t look good, said Shepherd. The beavers should be live-trapped and taken away, he said.

But that’s not his biggest concern. He’s frustrated that conservation groups and government officials are being idle while beavers are busily destroying nature.

“Basically all they’re saying is, ‘Well Whitehorse is the Wilderness City, and that’s the way things are,’” said Shepherd.

He’s called government officials and conservation officers to tell them about the destroyed trees. “But that’s not the way things should be. I mean, if they were wolves running around downtown, or coyotes all over the place, I’m sure they would be upset,” he said.

Conservation officer Ken Knutson said his staff would respond if beavers were threatening people’s safety or damaging property.

A couple of years ago, conservation officers removed a beaver’s feed pile near the White Pass & Yukon Route building. But that was because a wharf was being built there.

Beavers have been active along the Millennium Trail over the past few years. But the department hasn’t received any formal complaints, he said.

Removing the beavers wouldn’t be the first – or best – option, said Knutson.

If a small river is in jeopardy of being dammed by beavers, conservation officers would install a pipe through the dam itself to prevent water from building up.

That’s not a huge concern here, he said.

“We have beavers that build lodges adjacent to shore, but they’re not going to dam the Yukon River.”

Live-trapping could be an option, but it may not help. More beavers could move into the area. There’s not a lot of open water right now for beavers to move to anyway, said Knutson. Because beavers are territorial, placing them in new areas could put them at risk.

“You’re not necessarily doing them any favours. At that point, you’re probably better off killing them,” said Knutson. And baby beavers would be vulnerable to predators.

Wrapping wire around the bottom three or four feet of trees could help protect them, he said. But if trees are on Crown land, there’s nothing conservation officers can do, he said.

And they can’t force residents to protect trees on their property. It’s the department’s role to educate the public. It’s like bear safety, said Knutson. Officers can tell residents to dispose of garbage in a safe way, but they’re not going to start handing out bear-proof garbage bins.

“Everyone has a role in this and a responsibility,” he said.

And beavers support other species, said Christina Macdonald, wildlife co-ordinator with the Yukon Conservation Society.

Dams filter and slow water and provide new environments for insects. These insects provide food for other species.

“They have this role in the environment that should be recognized, and they shouldn’t be considered pests,” she said.

And when dams cause water to backup, it’s not always bad. When beavers are removed, rivers sometimes become shallow and narrow, she said. This has caused salmon’s habitat to suffer. In some areas, bringing in beavers has helped salmon. “They’re really quite wonderful tools, and I think people are just starting to scratch the surface of how beavers and humans can work together.”

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