A system installed in the University of New Brunswick’s woodlot in Fredericton to maintain water levels is expected to ease tensions between humans and beavers.
The area has a long history of beaver-built structures impacting human-built ones with the flood waters that result from the construction of beaver dams.
“This area has been a problem area for quite some time, for the last six years I’ve been here,” said Jason Golding, the university’s director of forest land.
“We’ve finally taken measures to do something here.”
The system — dubbed the “Beaver Leveling System” — works to allow Golding control over water levels in a given area rather than the beavers.
It is built around a road in the woodlot that is often used to transport university students and staff deep into the woodlot for research and studies.
“It’s perforated pipes surrounded by a cage so it doesn’t fill up with sludge and debris,” said Golding.
“On the opposite side of the road is a pipe that I can manually manage the level of the water on the other side of the road.”
Golding said having control over the water levels allows him to keep the road from being washed out by waters raised by beaver activity.
“If I want the water low, I take the pipe out at ground level, and the water will spill out,” said Golding.
“If I want the wetland higher I just have to add more pipe.”
Golding said the project wasn’t cheap, costing around $5,000. But included in the cost was a back-up system in case the rodents ever managed to somehow block the leveler.
“As a precaution, we’ve also built a spill-way,” said Golding.
“So as high as the water comes, even if the leveler can’t handle that water, it will spill across the road in a controlled manner, without washing out the road, or carrying silt downstream.”
The wires and caging sit just above the water’s surface where beavers have existed.
‘It’s not a trap’
Golding admits it may resemble a trap of sorts.
A week after it was installed it was already damaged, Golding guesses by people standing on it or trying to remove it.
“It’s not a trap,” said Golding.
“It doesn’t hurt beavers, it helps them, so please leave it be.”
In the past beaver dams have had to be torn down manually to reopen roadways in the woodlot. The last time it was done here the beavers rebuilt inside 24 hours.
“We spent about three hours on this site,” said Graham Forbes a forestry and biology professor at UNB.
“Now I don’t know how many beavers came in while were gone, but by the next day everything was plugged up again.”
Forbes said that projects like the beaver leveler are crucial in order to allow both humans and beavers to keep their structures in close proximity to each other.
“It allows us to have beavers in our system, but still maintain access to get to where you need to go with your classes,” said Forbes.
“It keeps water off the road, but allows beavers to exist on this site and still have access to food.”
Forbes says at last count there were four separate beaver colonies in the woodlot, with the potential for 20 to 25 beavers living in the lot now.
With the leveler it allows the population to continue to exist in this area without a cull.
“Before something like this we would have done a lethal removal,” said Forbes.
“And there’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding that.”
“This allows us to have our cake and eat it too,” said Forbes. “We can keep our beavers and keep our roads.”