By Doug Hallett
Coun. Bob Bell is feeling the heat, but he’s not backing away from his stand that the city needs a better way of dealing with tree damage caused by beavers.
His comment last month that a new forestry plan being developed by the city should “address beaver removal” has generated false accusations “that I want the beavers exterminated,” Bell says.
But he still thinks something needs to be done about a beaver population in Guelph that has “spiked” since last fall. And, he noted with a chuckle, “there are a lot of tasty trees down south of the city,” where Guelph’s urban beavers might be relocated and turned into country beavers.
“We have a problem and we need to manage the problem, and the way it is being dealt with now is rather haphazard,” he said in an interview Thursday.
City staff’s reliance on volunteer groups and individual residents to install wire caging around trees doesn’t cut it with Bell, who has a riverside home.
“Let me tell you, as one of the volunteers who regularly puts wire on the trees, it’s gone beyond where volunteers can cope with the problem in terms of the number of trees that need protection.”
The current spike in beaver population and building of beaver lodges in Guelph is considerably worse than the last spike six years ago, Bell said. When it started last fall, he started getting a lot of complaints from riverside residents, and so did city hall staff, he said.
One problem is that beavers are building lodges in places where water levels go up and down, such as Allan’s Pond near the River Run Centre, he said. Allan’s Pond is drained every year to prevent ice jams under a nearby bridge, leaving any beaver lodges there “high and dry,” he said. Then the beavers move somewhere else and start the tree-cutting process all over again to build another lodge.
Bell said the city should let the beavers know it’s not a good idea to build lodges in such places. “I don’t known how we would communicate with the beavers, other than to move them to a place in the river where the level doesn’t change, and that would be out in the country,” he said. “I’m not sure downtown Guelph is a place for beavers.”
He said beavers’ consumption of trees for food isn’t an issue, but beavers building lodges in the city is. A lodge is “like an apartment building for beavers” and they can get quite big, he said.
Having city workers destroy lodges or move the beavers are options for managing the problem, Bell said.
There isn’t a lot of suitable riverbank along the Speed River in Guelph for beavers, because of concrete walls in some spots or fluctuating water levels, he said. And moving Speed River beavers to the Eramosa River would hurt reforestation efforts there and also subject nearby residents to roaming beavers, he said. Especially when building a lodge, “they’ll walk a block to fell a tree.”
However, Bell admitted there are difficulties when it comes to moving beavers.
“I’ve been told you can’t relocate them too far,” perhaps no more than one kilometre, he said, referring to provincial Ministry of Natural Resources regulations for relocation of certain wild animals after live trapping.
And although Bell advocates live trapping of beavers to move them, he’s not positive how well this would work. “I think so, but I’m not sure,” he said when asked whether live trapping of beavers is feasible in Guelph.
Bell said a Feb. 28 Tribune story, reporting on beaver-management comments he’d made at a council committee meeting, was accurate. But he said some of the attacks on him after the story was published have been off base.
“Somebody uploaded that (Trib story) and letters started coming in from all over North America saying we know nothing about beavers,” he said. “I don’t think these people have any idea what’s going on in town.”