FORT NELSON, B.C. – A beaver expert, Dr. Glynnis Hood, says the dam that caused the washout near Coal River may have broken due to beavers leaving the area, therefore, the dam was not maintained.

The washout on July 1st on Highway 97 was suspected to be caused by beavers, according to the Canada Public Works office out of Fort Nelson.

This is not the first time beavers have been blamed, as 900 Tumbler Ridge residents lost internet, phone and television last year due to a beaver chewing through a fibre optic cable.

Hood, an assistant professor of environmental science at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, is not surprised by this type of behaviour and mentions a tree that fell on a power line earlier this spring, causing similar issues.

Hood explains that flooding by beavers is usually caused when water builds up behind the dam but an incident where a dam breaks and causes flooding is less common.

She says dams aren’t the solid barriers some think they are because they are actually “quite leaky” structures.

In a study she is conducting in the Kananaskis area with Dr. Sherry Westbrook and one of their graduate students, the team is looking at how dams interact with significant storm events and other aspects of the environment to see how they might either create greater flood events or mitigate them.

“In the 2013 flood that devastated Calgary and lots of areas within the southern part of Alberta and Southern B.C., a number of those beaver dams held in this study area, almost 68 to 70 per cent of them did and actually helped hold back flood waters,” she explained.

However, she explains when big rain events occur around dams that may not have been maintained, as beavers do move from a site they occupy, that is when dams break and cause other problems.

“As we saw in 2013, it’s going to be very hard for any structure to hold a lot of that water back, especially if there’s any kind of slope involved where the water’s running quite quickly,” she said.

She explains that beavers will stay in an area as long as there are long-term food and building materials and will move on when those necessities run out but can also return once those resources replenish.

Hood notes that young beavers leave their parents at two to three years of age and try to make an area close to other beavers work.

She says that beavers are one of the animals that are called “ecosystem engineers” or “environment engineers” because of their instinct to build and create their ecosystems in the way that they want.

“So, that’s the thing we notice the most. They build lodges which could be tremendously large,” she explains. “They live in the lodges, and they use the dams to hold the water back so that their lodges are surrounded by water, much like a moat.”

Beavers are very resourceful, she says, and they will use many different materials to build their dams and lodge.

She’s seen PVC pipe, man-made wooden transects, and even beaver skulls.

“They will take whatever’s available to them, and they’ll make good use of it,” she said.

“They’ve survived for many millennia for a reason, and they made a big comeback after the fur trade because they are really adaptable animals.”

The full interview can be viewed below:

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Shailynn Foster

Shailynn Foster is a news reporter for energeticcity.ca. Shailynn has been writing since she was 7 years old, but only recently started her journey as a journalist. Shailynn was born and raised in Fort St. John and she watches way too much YouTube, Netflix and Disney+ during the week while playing DND on the weekends.