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Parks Canada Battles Beavers and a lot of Angry Islanders

Parks Canada Battles Beavers and a lot of Angry Islanders

This week, Parks Canada walked back their controversial decision to kill problem beavers in Greenburn Lake on South Pender Island in the Gulf Islands.

The beavers, Parks estimates there’s one to eight of them, have created a dam that is interfering with the effectiveness of the lake’s human-made dam. The beavers’ dam has raised the water level in the lake, and Parks said they are certain this will cause the human dam to fail, leading to flooding of property and homes.

 Greenburn Lake.

Greenburn Lake.

Greenburn Lake is part of the Gulf Islands National Parks Reserve and is therefore under Parks Canada jurisdiction. Their proposed solution to the problem is to trap and kill the beavers and destroy their dam. Parks said they had explored all other options, they even tried removing the beaver dam and building a fence to keep the beavers away from the area. However, the beavers just built new dams in other places around the lake and the problem persisted. The agents also don’t believe rehoming the beavers is an option because they claim that beavers are territorial and they couldn’t find a suitable new place for them.

What Parks didn’t seem to anticipate was the backlash to their plan. Greenburn Lake is a popular hiking spot on Pender and many of the islanders feel an affection towards the beavers. Of course, there are also many animal rights activists who are disturbed by the idea of Parks Canada, which is tasked with preserving wildlife, being directly responsible for animal deaths.

Immediately, islanders planned a blockade of the area to stop the culling, with hundreds of people willing to protest. As the situation escalated, Parks Canada backed down and said they would re-evaluate other solutions, including diverting water away from the dam.

Whether Parks will go through with their original culling plan remains to be seen, and if they do decide it’s still the only option, islanders will likely escalate the situation to a full-on protest and blockade. Interestingly, the superintendent of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve told CBC that "at Parks Canada, it's our mandate to ensure ecological integrity, but we always have to ensure that public safety comes first."

I point this out because that’s not entirely true. In their agreement with the province of BC to establish the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve in 2003, Parks said they would “manage the National Park Reserve for the benefit, education and enjoyment of all Canadians, and will maintain and make use of the National Park Reserve so as to leave it unimpaired for future generations with the maintenance of ecological integrity the first priority in management of that land.”

Per this agreement, public safety shouldn’t really come first, ecological integrity should. Also, does flooding from this lake actually endanger public safety? Or just people’s homes? The problem probably lies more in the fact that people’s homes were built in the potential flood path of this lake than in the beaver dams themselves.

If maintenance of ecological integrity is the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve’s first priority, then no expense should be spared to protect these beavers and their dams. Beavers are the original ecosystem engineers, and their damming of waterways creates new habitats for other organisms. Therefore, the culling of these animals wouldn’t just be seen as wrong from an animal rights perspective, but also from an ecosystem-centred one.

This case is also important because it demonstrates that local activism can have a tangible impact. By putting public pressure on Parks Canada, the islanders have forced them to at least try harder to live up to their stated mandate and preserve an important part of their island’s ecosystem. Also, as some have pointed out, it looks pretty bad for Parks Canada to kill beavers when they literally use them as their logo.

I’ll be watching this story to see whether Parks Canada offers up another solution. And if this does come to a head and islanders protest, it will be interesting to see if they can get Parks to back down again. I might join them at Greenburn Lake, I heard the swimming is good there.

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