Wander Calgary’s river paths for long enough and eventually you will spot a whiskered face poking out of the water or a rotund mass of fur lumbering along the bank. The city is home to hundreds of beavers and while the iconic critters pleasantly blur the city-nature divide, they can also wreak havoc on their environment and damage infrastructure.
Local trapper Bill Abercrombie has been trapping in Alberta for nearly 50 years. His company is regularly hired by the city to remove beavers where they are causing problems.
“They cut down all the trees, they will dam up water courses and flood areas, quite often they’ll do things like move into the sewer system,” says Abercrombie. “If we’re going to have beavers coexisting with us, we actually have to take responsibility to [manage these issues] humanely and respectfully.”
Abercrombie says trapping discretely in such close proximity to people is the most challenging part of working in the city. Beavers can also become aggressive when caught on land and their long teeth can inflict serious wounds. Abercrombie says everyone on his crew has had a close call with a beaver and he advises Calgarians to keep a close eye on their four-legged companions at the city’s riverbanks. “If a dog is in the wrong place at the wrong time, he’s going to get it,” says Abercrombie. “Beavers are big; they’re strong. There’s no dog that’s a match for a beaver.
“It can be lethal.”
City of Calgary Parks Ecologist Tanya Hope says while beavers can cause conflict, they also benefit Calgary’s urban ecosystems. Their dams create pond habitat for other species and even reduce the impact of small flood events. “Outside of humans they’re the only other animals that can change the way their landscape works,” says Hope. “We definitely want to have them here.”
To reduce deforestation and flooding Hope wraps protective wire around tree trunks and installs pond-levelling pipes through beaver dams. But the beavers help by eliminating non-native species, as well. “By carefully selecting which trees we leave unwired the beavers can actually increase the health of our forests,” says Hope.
When such strategies fail, however, the city turns to Abercrombie. He and his team remove the rodents using lethal traps placed underwater to ensure beavers are the only animals targeted. According to Abercrombie, his company traps about 50 beavers a year in Calgary.
If the animal’s fur is suitable it is used for garments while the fat-rich meat is often used as bait for predators, though it can also end up on the dinner table. “It’s quite edible,” says Abercrombie, “[it tastes] kind of like turkey if it’s cooked right.”