These City Building Beavers Are Making A Splash
Learn about the beaver family living in the Don Valley Brick Works Park right now
Published on May 27, 2021
Beavers are city builders of the natural world. Among the largest living rodents today, they are descendants of the 200 lbs giant prehistoric beavers who roamed this area before the Ice Age. Prehistoric beaver fossils were even discovered in the Don Valley Brick Works Park!
Common today in the Don and Toronto’s ravines networks, beavers have been chomping trees and building dams here for a very, very long time.
We spoke with Cheryl Post, Natural Environment Specialist with City of Toronto in Urban Forestry, who works to manage Don Valley Brick Works Park as well as the recent beavers in residence.
Are there any benefits to the ecosystem of having beavers living here?
Beavers provide many benefits to ecosystems, even in urban environments. In cases where beavers are living in appropriate areas, they can act as a keystone species, making new wetland habitat that benefits many other species, while also providing natural water management. This helps increase biodiversity and can even help reduce flooding.
That said, in the case of Don Valley Brick Works Park, with an already established wetland, the park is an unsuitable over-winter habitat for a beaver family. It was suggested by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) that we may have been dealing with an inexperienced or young family trying to set up in an inappropriate location.
So, we stepped in to help protect the park, and gently move the beavers along. That way they can set up in a more appropriate location that can properly support them, without impacting an established habitat and trail network.
What does your team do to help beavers and humans share the same ecosystem?
Parks, Forestry and Recreation staff work closely with the TRCA to ensure that beavers and other wildlife have quality habitat throughout the City.
Generally, beavers are allowed to continue their activity uninterrupted. We are all sharing space after all! However, in cases where they may be having a negative impact on our parks and ravines (such as flooding paths, blocking culverts, or taking down too many high-quality trees), we can step in to protect those assets. In the case of Don Valley Brick Works Park, we installed metal cages as culvert protectors so they could no longer cause flooding or blockages, and put wire cages around slower growing or higher quality trees to protect them. We did not remove the beavers, and have kept many fast-growing trees such as cottonwoods uncaged for them to access.
The beavers at the Brick Works sure aren’t shy! How should people interact with them when they spot one?
Even before you see a beaver at Don Valley Brick Works Park, visitors should always make sure that they stay on official granular trails and keep their dogs on a leash at all times. Always give wildlife space, and never try to feed them, even fish and turtles. Interacting closely with wildlife puts them at tremendous risk, and negatively impacts their future behaviour.
Best to limit your interactions to a photo, without attempting to leave the trail or get any closer to them. If wildlife approaches you, it is likely that people have fed them, and you don't want to reinforce this behaviour. Move away, and suggest others around you do the same.
Next time you spot one of the beavers, tag Evergreen Brick Works on social media so we can all see what these critters have been up to!
Do we have a prediction on how many beavers live in Toronto's ravines? At the Brick Works?
While we and TRCA don't have an estimate on how many beavers live in all of Toronto, we believe there was a family of two young adults with one kit (that's a baby beaver!) at the Brick Works this past winter. We have had beavers come through the park many times in the past, but on a more transient basis, accessing the habitat for resources, but not trying to set up a home base.
What kind of behaviour would we observe with beavers this spring?
In the spring, pregnant beavers will be giving birth and nursing young. Depending on the severity of the winter, they may be felling trees for food if their winter reserves have been depleted. They will also spend time maintaining existing dams and lodges and scent-marking. Juvenile beavers are often displaced from their lodges and set out looking for their own place to call home.
Now that the winter is over, it's possible they will begin to venture further afield for a better home. They may begin to visit the park more sporadically as they mature, much like beavers in the past have done.
Is there anything interesting or unique about the beaver population at the Brick Works?
It's inherently unique that they stayed at Don Valley Brick Works Park over the winter. It's possible this was their first kit and they're just learning what to do. And while it isn't unique, these beavers were certainly industrious! We removed about three full truckloads of debris from our blocked culverts, most of which would be re-deposited within a matter of days. As visitors can see, they also took down a large number of trees in the park (although we aren't concerned as they were mainly fast-growing, self-seeding Cottonwoods). There really is something to the term "busy beaver"!
About Don Valley Brick Works Park and Evergreen Brick Works
Once a former quarry, Don Valley Brick Works Park is now a City of Toronto flagship natural environment park. It is considered a model for urban ecosystem planning given its extensive landscape restoration, re-naturalization, wetland re-establishment, and adaptive management.
Adjacent to the park, Evergreen Brick Works is home to 16 heritage buildings run by Evergreen, a national not-for-profit. At Evergreen Brick Works, you can take part in Evergreen’s public programs and start your journey through the Don Valley Brick Works Park.