Our national critter
By Jim Poling
Published July 27, 2017
If you see a beaver this summer, stop to give it a hug. The poor little guy or gal could use some affection, and some appreciation. If you don’t want to get too close, just blow it a kiss.
The beaver, a Canadian symbol since the beginning of the country’s exploration, is getting bad media these days. Also, it is being nudged from the spotlight by other woodland critter symbols, notably the loon and more recently the moose.
I noticed a developing anti-beaver attitude just after Canada Day. Macleans.ca ran an odd little item about how beaver behaviour is appalling people across the country. It noted television reports of pet dogs being bitten by beavers in Edmonton. And, a beaver biting the hand of a woman on an Ottawa boardwalk.
Most seriously it repeated a Winnipeg Free Press report that beaver are “wreaking havoc in parts of Manitoba on a scale not seen in a lifetime.” It gave no details of the havoc but noted that neighbouring Saskatchewan inaugurated a beaver-hunting derby because the critters were flooding fields, roads and chewing trees.
The 2016 derby brought in 601 beavers weighing 23,684 pounds. The weightiest individual topped 83 pounds. Animal protection groups were not amused and there is no indication that another beaver killing derby was held this year.
Then I stumbled across a 2014 University of Saskatchewan study that says beaver are responsible for increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing numbers of beaver dams, the study said, have created 42,000 square kilometres of new beaver ponds in Eurasia and the Americas.
Carbon-rich plants rot at the bottom of the ponds, which then release methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas that absorbs the sun’s heat, contributing greatly to global warming.
There are roughly 1.5 billion automobiles chuffing pollution into the atmosphere every day and some people now are blaming climate change on a few million beaver.
It is not just bad media, however, that is reducing the popularity of our industrious and cute national symbol. There is a campaign to get rid of the beaver’s most important showplace – the nickel.
The beaver has been on the back of the Canadian nickel for almost 100 years. It appeared in 1922 and has been there ever since, except 1943-45 when it was replaced by the Second World War Victory Nickel.
The Royal Canadian Mint pulled the penny from circulation in 2013 and there has been talk since then that the nickel, with its trademark beaver on the reverse side, is next. The coin’s value actually is less than what it costs to produce it.
The beaver’s status sunk while other critters were being promoted. The caribou was placed on the back of our 25-cent piece decades ago and now the moose has appeared on a pure silver bullion coin.
Our one dollar paper buck was replaced by the loonie 30 years ago. The “buck,” believed named for buck-toothed beaver, had been with us for 300-plus years – back to when The Hudson’s Bay Co. put four beaver on its coat of arms and created the buck coin representing one beaver pelt.
Moose symbolism certainly appears to have pushed the beaver aside during this year’s Canada 150 birthday celebrations. The moose seems to be everywhere – on ball caps, T-shirts, coffee cups and in plush toy form.
This year’s usually wet weather has not boosted beaver popularity. Beaver-blocked culverts and breached dams have caused some road damage and closures. The little guys seem to be having difficulty keeping up with dam maintenance.
A beaver dam has stood solid at the rear of our lake for more than 30 years. It is maybe 15 metres across and this spring I noticed one end was breached and recently there was no sign of it being repaired. I fear something has happened to the resident beavers.
Whatever has happened to them, I am sure they will be back or replaced. There were an estimated 60 million beaver here when the first Europeans arrived.
We managed to bring the little critters close to extinction but the North American beaver population has rebounded to an estimated 10 to 15 million.