Burgeoning beavers build bulky barricades

CAMROSE, Alta. — Kevin MacDonald wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for the Canadian icon featured on the real nickel.

This year, beavers have plugged culverts and flooded roads, fields and farmyards.

“This year, it’s bonkers,” said MacDonald, manager of Camrose County’s Agricultural Service Board.

The county has ripped apart roads to let the water drain after beavers have blocked culverts.

Since spring, the county has trapped almost 70 beavers from about 15 locations and there is a waiting list of more than 30 farmers and acreage owners wanting the county to trap the beavers causing havoc on their land.

“We had to buy more traps this year,” said MacDonald.

Male beavers create scent locations to help mark their territory. Machum uses sticks to secure the Conibear trap in place along the beaver run. | Mary MacArthur photo

The county offers free beaver trapping, but with a long waiting list, landowners have turned to wildlife specialists like Bob Machum, who trapped about 100 beavers last year in the region.

The retired Fish and Wildlife officer said a combination of excess water and little value for the pelts has caused the beaver population to explode.

“The fur industry for them is over,” said Machum, whose family had a trap line in southern Alberta when he was a child. A beaver pelt then would bring $25. Now, pelts may sell for $3 to $5 each.

Because of the beaver’s transient and territorial nature, there is no guarantee an area will remain beaver-free once the animals are removed.

An underwater trap in a beaver run. The trap is placed under the log. If a beaver swims through it is killed instantly. | Mary MacAurthur photo

Each year, a female will have two to four young, which stay with the mother for a year before they pair up, move on and start their own colony.

“They’re incredible little critters,” said Machum.

Justin Babcock, manager of agricultural services with Ponoka County, said in a normal year, the two trappers, hired by the county, can trap enough beavers to keep the water flowing. This year, the continual rain has encouraged beavers to keep building dams.

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