Canada wildfires: a beaver’s story of survival in Toronto

A wildfire that ripped through Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula has destroyed three houses, a pub and four businesses, and a report found that at least 14 people who were evacuated fled with one backpack or…

Canada wildfires: a beaver's story of survival in Toronto

A wildfire that ripped through Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula has destroyed three houses, a pub and four businesses, and a report found that at least 14 people who were evacuated fled with one backpack or the other.

Efforts are still underway to determine the extent of the devastation, but biologists estimate the fire destroyed 10% of beaver habitat in the area. In response, Metrolinx, which operates public transit, built a 1.5-mile-long wildlife overpass and dramatically reduced the intensity of water pressure on the perch-dwelling creatures.

“The increase in traffic where the car was forced to merge into the pavement has made it really hard for the beavers to rest,” said David Fox, a beaver expert from the wildlife rehabilitation team at Bateman Conservation Camp, which has been working closely with the overpass in a bid to alleviate stress on the animal and save its habitat.

The beavers, which are animals native to the Lower 48 states and Canadians, mostly live in large ponds with more than a half-mile of water. The presence of commuters also makes them visible to other species, so Fox’s team hopes tourists and locals will have more of an awareness of them.

Samantha Naile, an operations manager at Transport Canada who worked on the project, saw how important the beavers were to those left behind.

When the animals find themselves underwater, it means the water has increased or they are being driven further and further from the shore, which is fine. “But if there is strong (water) pressure, they are extremely stressed. They sink, they drown, and when their tusks and tail don’t hit bottom, they head back out,” Naile said.

On the overpass, which was constructed by a contractor after resident petitions garnered support for the overpass, water pressure has been decreased. “It’s completely symbolic of what can happen on the forested areas,” said Ted Shields, a Ministry of Natural Resources director.

The project was the first of its kind in Canada and illustrates the effort Metrolinx is making to improve commuting. Beavers were previously seen as polluters, but after strong actions by environmental groups and Metrolinx, they have been integrated back into populations in the region.

Fox said his team hopes the heightening public awareness of the animals will help to build new alliances, especially with nature lovers. “We are feeling pretty passionate about the beavers. In the urban setting they have so much to offer,” Fox said.

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