Walking along the Vedder Rotary Trail as you are today, you might come across a variety of wildlife who call this area home. Wildlife includes woodpeckers, ground squirrels, eagles and frogs. But you might see more evidence of a particular animal than the animal itself.
Beavers are one such animal: though you may easily spot evidence of their habitation of the trail area, they typically evade the human gaze. These powerful engineers build impressive dams, canals and lodges along the Chilliwack and Vedder Rivers. They prefer to live in forested areas straddled by water. Beavers are fairly slow moving creatures on land but become strong and graceful under water. Their sight is just as good in water as it is on land. Beavers are hard to spot during the day as they tend to be most active from dusk till dawn. Note: Beavers construct their dams in calmer marshy waters. You can spot plenty of evidence of their work in the Peach area and ponds just north of the river that runs parallel to the trail as one heads towards the Blue Heron Nature Reserve.
Beavers live for logging. They chew down 216 trees a year and can fall trunks up to 40 centimeters across. Although beavers are known for their dam structures, they only focus on this configuration if they need to increase the underwater habitat available to them during the winter. A dam creates a pond deep enough that the bottom doesn't freeze, giving them storage for winter food and access to their secure lodge year-round. Dams start out with the beavers laying sticks and rocks along the streambed at a narrow point in the river. The sticks are wedged with the butt ends facing upstream so the current spreads the branches and the rocks get packed in with the mud and roots. Layers are built upon layers, creating a solid structure that can withstand water pressure and erosion. Check out the river and see if you can spot a beaver dam. Some can end up as high as 5.5 meters tall.
Besides dams, beavers also build lodges to live in for several years. Lodges are usually built in the middle of a pond or along the banks of a waterway and take about a month to construct. The complex houses include a feeding den, a resting den, a source of fresh air and two underwater entrance tunnels for escape in the case of a predator gaining access to their lodge. Unlike dams, which are built on the water, beaver lodges are fabricated on a platform at least 3.5 inches above the water line so that they stay dry. Beavers construct their lodges by gnawing out space in a pile of mud, bark and twigs. Can you spot a beaver lodge along the banks of the river? The size of these homes depends on the number of family members, the number of years they've been or intend to stay there, and the level of the water. Most are about 5 meters wide and 2 meters high. When the temperature drops below zero, beavers entirely envelop their lodges, other than the air intake at the top, with mud. This creates a concrete-like outer shell that can withstand predators such as wolves and lynx.
Did you know that no other animal has influenced our country's history to the degree beavers have? When settlers first came to North America, beaver pelts were the prize that lured hunters deeper into the bush. In the peak of the fur trade era, over 200,000 pelts were sold to the European market, mainly to be turned into beaver hats. But around the turn of the 20th century trading in beaver slowed right down due to the beaver hat becoming less fashionable and because beavers were becoming scarce. More recently, both the federal and provincial governments have enacted conservation measures to reintroduce the beaver to many areas that were stripped of the furry creatures by early trappers. Sometimes the goal of protecting the beaver must be balanced against the need to protect the environment: beavers can damage farmlands, roads, plants and trees through their cutting and damming behavior. However, beavers can also have a beneficial impact on their environment, helping to maintain water levels, stabilize stream flow, prevent streambed erosion and improve the habitat of some wildlife. Overall, the beaver is celebrated in Canada as a national symbol on coins, stamps and emblems.