I recently read a fascinating article in The Atlantic discussing the significant impact my favourite rodent may have on climate change. Beaver’s build dams, as we all know, which create wetlands – swamps, marshes, drowned forests etc – which in turn means that a large quantity of water is retained in a given area. Wetlands help prevent forest fires inasmuch as they help control flooding. They can prevent droughts, are vitally complex ecosystems with incredible biodiversity, and conserve freshwater. Canada has the world’s largest quantity of freshwater, but the incidence of forest fires and flooding seems to be on the rise as more and more land is developed for various purposes, whether it’s residential real estate, agriculture, mining etc. Conserving large quantities of groundwater is crucial for agriculture, and situating wetlands close to the fields certainly makes irrigation a lot easier. It just so happens that there’s a lot of farmland concentrated in the vast spaces between the cities, which require massive quantities of water for every use you might imagine. The list goes on and on, wetlands are a vital necessity to help keep Canada the verdant oasis and overflowing cornucopia it truly is, not to mention prevent natural disasters (not acts of god, as it were) and generally improve the health of our environment in general. And the beaver, our strange national animal, happens to be a capital wetlands architect and engineer.
The beaver is a versatile creature which thrives across the continent, from the Mexican border to North of 60. It’s an aquatic mammal well suited to living on land, industrious to say the very least; beaver’s aren’t just hard-working, their innovative, adaptable. It’s everything you could want in a national symbol and more. And best of all, much like Canada, the beaver is complex and represents our societies common endeavour – to build a better country for a better world.
But the beaver is not just an emblem of Canada, not merely symbolic – it is potentially, by virtue of its very nature, a natural solution to a complex man-made problem. I firmly believe the dualist Canadian identity, a blend of multiculturalism and interculturalism to one degree or another, may in fact be a solution to another complex man-made problem. Few nations have embraced humanism over nationalism or racialism as well as Canada has. It’s in our nature by virtue of the conditions our founders found themselves. They acknowledged that the best solution to the conflicting interests of imported cultures and religions was to integrate, and build something new, from scratch. We should be proud to have such an apropos and avant garde national animal.
It might be an idea for us to take this diminutive animal a little more seriously. I seem to recall a while back there was talk that Canada needed a new (read better) national animal, and that the wolverine had been proposed. That was until it was revealed that wolverines were once known as ‘skunk bears’ for their pungent odor emitted from glands in their rear-end. Besides, wolverines are part of the weasel family. Hardly inspiring.
I like the idea proposed in the article, that so-called Beaver Believers (no, not Beiber Believers) are working to re-introduce the beaver to various areas with the hopes that they will quickly begin construction of new dams and wetlands, whose value is already well documented amongst environmental scientists. Consider this, back in the 1600s when the Voyageurs were charting the Canadian interior to supply European hat demand, there may have ben as many as 400 million beavers in North America, and today there are but 6-12 million. I’m not arguing we should try to get back to 400 million, but would it hurt to try re-introducing beavers to suburban nature parks or semi-rural areas, in the hopes that they could help with the development of greenbelts around urban areas? Something tells me the long term environmental benefits of using beavers to help construct new, albeit constrained, wetlands around dense urban areas, would far outweigh the initial costs of collecting a couple hundred beavers from which new colonies would be created.
New wetlands may be able to reverse a lot of the inclement weather we’ve seen develop in North America over the past two decades, and in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, where oil companies are already developing ‘green zones’ as a means of environmental rehabilitation, the beaver may be able to help speed up the process. As long as there’s waterways and wood, beavers will flourish, and by extension, so will the immediate local ecosystem.
Hard to imagine a major solution to a potentially dangerous environmental shift in North America could be no more complex than making sure our country had plenty living examples of one of our most emblematic natural wonders, doing exactly what it is they do best.
Something to think about.