The Beavers of Beaver Mountain

by Dave Hanks

There is a national park just east of Edmonton, Alberta called Elk Island Park. The Indians had a different name for it. They called it Beaver Mountain because of the abundance of that large rodent that is found there. A species that used to be quite common, but now harder to find in the lower 48 states, is easily observed at Elk Island Park.

We have found that the bulk of park visitors don’t get active until 10:00 AM. If you get out and about at daybreak, it’s delightful, because that’s when most of the mammals are active, and you mostly have them to yourself for a couple of hours. This situation played out one morning at Elk Island Park. The early morning mist was rising off the lake - bird calls resounded all around. Muskrats and beaver were engaged in vigorous activity. Both species were very approachable and one large beaver would swim quite close to where we stood on a boardwalk. We, also, witnessed a family group of three cut down an aspen, chew it into four foot lengths, and then tow those sections out into the water. The small limbs and leaves were not forgotten. They snapped smaller branches in two with one bite. When finished with the tree, there was not a trace of foliage left. It was as though someone had used a rake to clean up. This efficient operation was all accomplished in the space of three hours.

CASTOR CANADENSIS is our largest rodent (28” long) and like all rodents, has prominent incisors for gnawing. They are master engineers and the building of dams across creeks, not only invigorates and starts succession in riparian communities, but provides much needed habitat for many other species of animals. The behavior of this “critter” is most fascinating and instructive!

(Harvesting the Aspen)