Is Canada’s national animal a boon or a pest?

Beavers: love them, hate them or ambivalent?

A recently launched survey seeks to learn Alberta landowners’ attitudes about one of Canada’s national symbols.

Alberta’s Cows and Fish society has partnered with the Miistakis Institute, a non-profit research group associated with Mount Royal University, on a survey to assess landowners’ knowledge and perception about beavers, their habitat and their management.

There are benefits and drawbacks to having beavers on the property, and survey results will be used to further develop education and outreach on the role of beavers in the ecosystem.

“Beavers are a really important keystone species in our ecosystems and they provide some really critical function within our watersheds, and people don’t know a lot of that,” said Miistakis executive director Danah Duke.

“We recognize that beavers cause a lot of damage. They take down trees, they flood areas. We recognize that and we recognize that in order for people to be able to coexist with beavers, we need to be able to manage beavers.”

Duke said she suspects many people don’t realize all the benefits beavers provide, such as raising the water table, slowing stream flow, creating habitat for biological diversity and making stopgaps against drought.

“Beaver ponds retain water 50 percent longer than stream sections with no beaver activity, so in times when water is scarce, we find places that have beavers and beaver ponds, water stays on the landscape longer.”

Anyone in Alberta is welcome to take the survey, but the project is aimed at southern Alberta for the moment, said Duke. Organizers are hoping to receive at least 400 responses so that they have statistically significant results.

Duke said Cows and Fish has been doing education and outreach about beavers for years, and the survey is part of ongoing work to explore ways that beavers and landowners can peaceably coexist.

There are mitigation measures, such as tree fencing, culvert installation and pond levellers, that can aid in that coexistence, but landowner attitudes and appetite for such measures have to be assessed first, Duke said.

Alberta used to have many more beavers than it does today, and some areas of the province could benefit from a higher number. The reverse might also be true.

The survey, which takes about 30 minutes to complete, is available until July 26 and can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/albertabeaver.

Survey results will be summarized in a report on the Cows and Fish and Miistakis websites this fall.

More information on beavers is also available at cowsandfish.org/publications/documents/APondofGold.pdf.

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