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Low Water, High Dungeon, and Dead Beavers (Part 4)

A view of McIntyre Creek | Photo: Murray Munn

Text and photographs by: Murray Munn
(Part 3 of 4)

(Click here to read part 1)
(Click here to read part 2)
(Click here to read part 3)

But why would the existence of a pond be a detriment to a housing development?  I hoped a subdivision was not planned, not after Whistle Bend has gone through and taken out so much productive land, but I could only see detriment on the side of the wildlife; surely a pond would be an asset to humans, and an otter disaster for beaver and the songbirds and ducks, foxes and eagles it would impact.  (Although there are stories told by such truth-tellers as the great nature-writer Andy Russell of determined dogs’ bellies being ripped open by beavers as they chased pokily after the expertly swimming big rodents.)

All that summer and fall, I had noticed flagging tape, surveyors’ sticks and machete-slashed trees in the College pond area—near the highway and north of the upper pond, as well as further in toward the footbridge—and at first thought it might be a Yukon College class learning the trade.  But now I am sure the area was being staked and surveyed—for what, I don’t know.  Still, I don’t think a new subdivision would be a reason for which beavers would be dispatched.

My best guess as to lower water levels in the so-called “pumphouse pond” is that Yukon Electrical needed to trap more water in its upper creek penstocks—up toward Mount Mac and Fish Lake—and that is why the pumphouse pond was very low.  I don’t know if duck broods were lost, let alone what other effects there may be when water is held back (does the pond have crustaceans?  frogs?  muskrats?), but I do have photographs showing larger numbers and greater varieties of ducks in other years.  As I stated, I believe I saw some canvasbacks in there a few years back, but could not determine what they were with certainty.  There seemed to be more swallows, more songbirds (I’ve seen yellow warblers, myrtle warblers (I prefer the old name), common yellowthroats, and I’ve heard American tree sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets and many other birds that I couldn’t see, let alone photograph).  There was, or seemed to be, more of everything in other years.  But it’s just an impression with unknowable numbers to back it up.

This piece has been my attempt to discover what happens behind anecdotal, impressionistic events at a popular recreational area.  And at a would-be popular wildlife corridor.  Was the water lower in the summer of 2012 than in previous times?  There’s no doubt of that, in my mind.  It seems to be back “up” now.  Were the stories true of beaver being trapped, and of the incidental otter?  Most definitely … and the otter, allegedly, but quite likely.  (I’m told that otter have been known to prey on beaver—presumably the smaller ones—so if there are remaining beaver in these ponds, I’d guess they are pleased.)  We just never see this side of the College pond area; for obvious reasons it’s not broadcast.  I wanted to find out.

A homemade bridge near College pond that could have been designed by Jim Robb | Photo: Murray Munn
A homemade bridge near College pond that could have been designed by Jim Robb | Photo: Murray Munn

Are “experts” helping to advise when water should be held back, and when not?  Is YECL required to seek advice, or to heed it?  Was the water held back by YECL this summer?  I think also that we forfeit a lot of power to scientists, or rather that even science is very much subject to the inclinations and interests of its purveyors and their bosses as any other area of study.  (It was I, not the scientists I then worked amid, who wondered aloud, on hearing the explosions that were making a pathway that was to become the Hamilton Boulevard extension, if then-hibernating ground squirrels would wake up concussed come spring.)  Non-experts have knowledge as well, and may have more experience in an area than the scientists and technicians in charge, if only anecdotal.  Scientists are as apt to ride ATVs through the mossy woods as the uneducated, in my experience, to hunt with machine assistance as those who never went past Grade 6, or to not see environmental decay that their employers don’t pay them to see.  Perhaps we need to reap the knowledge of other interested parties—the walkers and the amateur birders, etc.—before taking decisions.  And maybe agreements made with community involvement need to be adhered to.

People are upset about the loss of wildlife and woods in the City.  Things happen and, after a few months of no beaver sign, people sense or see the evidence of events they had no control over or input into.  They feel offended they were not informed or consulted.  True, it’d be an onerous process if every decision involved canvassing all interested parties … On the other hand, a citizen-journalist will bring it to the public’s attention, as I am doing with this admittedly ponderous article.

As for the yowling, shrieking night sounds that one caller told me of hearing somewhere around 1989 in the area of the upper pond?  It may have been a battle of the beaver, as they surmised, but romance—sex—seems the likelier basis.

My thanks to all those who phoned or e-mailed, and especially to those who answered my numerous and confused questions.  Any holes in this dam, any breaches in journalistic procedure, are the fault of the writer.  (But there are so many little sticks…!)

(The End)

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Low Water, High Dungeon, and Dead Beavers (Part 3)

Serenity at the McIntyre Creek area | Photo by: Murray Munn

Text and photographs by: Murray Munn

(Part 3 of 4)

(Click here to read part 1)
(Click here to read part 2)
(Click here to read part 4)

One respondent walked the entire length of McIntyre Creek—the creek that feeds the two ponds—and counted zero chinook salmon this year, and has found salmon other years.  (I didn’t know salmon could be counted that way, that they could be discerned with any counting certainty in a fast-running creek with overhang and deadfall, but that’s another new thing to me.)  I learned that McIntyre Creek as we know it was not always thus, that its course has been modified over the century to a significant, if imperfectly understood, degree.  Whitehorse Copper and other developments had creek crossings, and the Dawson (and/or Kluane) Trail crossed it at points unknown.  McIntyre Creek, as a 1997 document by Al von Finster explained, once wended a quite different way than it winds today … and a bit more complicatedly than needs to be mapped out here.  We truly are busy beavers, we humans.

It should have been no surprise, but I have learned that, yes, beaver are trapped annually in the McIntyre Creek area and anywhere else where they tamper with man-made structures.  District Conservation Officer David Bakica told me that most years an average of 2 beaver are trapped in the area, with a high of 11 one year.  The trapping is done by a registered trapper using a Conibear C330, and set in water where it is unlikely a wandering dog will get caught in it; however, it may happen that due to fluctuations in water level, the trap may not remain entirely submerged.  The permit is only for the beaver, and does not allow for the destruction of dams per se, except as needed to set and hold the trap.  If a dam or other blockage made by beavers needs to be destroyed, the conservation officers do that.

The drowned otter, presumably “collateral damage,” was not referenced by the c.o., but I did hear of it from two different people—a walker who must know someone who knew, and a Highways rep who believed it to be true, but told me to ask another person, which I did and whose answer is detailed herein.  It’s probably no surprise that bycatch does happen.  Both otter and beaver mate for the long-term, but if a mate is lost, they do seek out a new mate.  New mates notwithstanding, death by drowning is not a pleasant result.

As for the reason for the trapping, c.o. Bakica said his database, which he admitted had some gaps and wasn’t waterproof, showed only “protection of infrastructure” as the reason for trapping.  The nearby Alaska Highway bed was one such—the water of a dammed pond can dissolve and erode the roadbed and, left undetected, imperil drivers—and, much further upstream at the Yukon Electric structures just beyond Icy Waters, beaver workings in the dams and penstocks were another.

During my 1979-‘80 stint in Whitehorse, fresh up from Regina, when I got the meter reader job that all the “bush hippies” had tried for (a quote from someone I worked with there back then), I read the meters in the entire Whitehorse region, and I ought to have thought of the Yukon Electrical hydro stations upstream (where I and my company Datsun made the trip once per month to read the meter), but it wasn’t until a helpful e-mail came that I twigged that power demands were the likely reason for the low water in the pumphouse pond.   However, two calls to Yukon Electrical found the communications person busy, and no message left, so I cannot confirm that waters were withheld due to power demands in the spring and summer of 2012.  It does seem the most plausible reason for the low water, and it is probably within their rights.

There were some beavers killed in 2011/‘12 but I was unable to get the numbers.  I still don’t know if the beavers’ absence is the root of the low water, or part of the reason.  The apparent return to full flow of the creek above the pond (between the upper and lower ponds) last weekend makes me think it had little to do with the beaver being killed.  It’s not that the dam is leaking, in other words, though it is.  It could be the beaver in the upper pond (again, not sure if they are still living there) have sequestered most of the flow.  (There are presently 2 dams at the exit from the upper pond—the main one, and a sub-dam that creates a nice little step-pond (photo included).  I still can’t understand why the upper pond is deep, the pumphouse pond (was) shallow, and I am not clear where the beavers were taken out.  Which pond held the beaver that were trapped, or was it both?  The lower pond surely cannot have an effect on the roadbed of the highway—it’s got to be 10 or 30 meters below highway level, and a kilometre or two distant—but perhaps beaver travel back and forth between ponds, so to kill a lower pond beaver is to kill both ponds’ beaver?

Speaking of travel, another of the reasons I’d conjectured for the need to eliminate dams (and, thus, beavers) was the passage of salmon for spawning.  I did see the entire carcass of a spent salmon two summers ago caught up in the detritus of the creek some 20 metres beyond the inner-forest footbridge (the one that is now impassable to ATVs and snowmachines), but have no idea if they can jump or wriggle over these impediments. Would the powers that be have taken out a dam for the sake of salmon?  Perhaps.  It just usually is human interests that garner the interest of wildlife managers—well, we do like our fish, so that is a possibility.

The least likely reason I came up with was that a new subdivision was being planned in the area near the highway and the “upper pond.”  I based this on nothing but the existence of stakes this fall in the College area.  I witnessed the tools of a two-man crew in the summer of 2012 by the cement-and-beam barrier not far north of the pumphouse pond, mapping the footpaths … for all I could tell (the men themselves were not there—possibly of on a break?).  That is, maybe there is no housing being planned, and they are making a map of trails.

(To be continued)

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Low Water, High Dungeon, and Dead Beavers (Part 3)

Serenity at the McIntyre Creek area | Photo by: Murray Munn

Text and photographs by: Murray Munn

(Part 3 of 4)

(Click here to read part 1)
(Click here to read part 2)
(Click here to read part 4)

One respondent walked the entire length of McIntyre Creek—the creek that feeds the two ponds—and counted zero chinook salmon this year, and has found salmon other years.  (I didn’t know salmon could be counted that way, that they could be discerned with any counting certainty in a fast-running creek with overhang and deadfall, but that’s another new thing to me.)  I learned that McIntyre Creek as we know it was not always thus, that its course has been modified over the century to a significant, if imperfectly understood, degree.  Whitehorse Copper and other developments had creek crossings, and the Dawson (and/or Kluane) Trail crossed it at points unknown.  McIntyre Creek, as a 1997 document by Al von Finster explained, once wended a quite different way than it winds today … and a bit more complicatedly than needs to be mapped out here.  We truly are busy beavers, we humans.

It should have been no surprise, but I have learned that, yes, beaver are trapped annually in the McIntyre Creek area and anywhere else where they tamper with man-made structures.  District Conservation Officer David Bakica told me that most years an average of 2 beaver are trapped in the area, with a high of 11 one year.  The trapping is done by a registered trapper using a Conibear C330, and set in water where it is unlikely a wandering dog will get caught in it; however, it may happen that due to fluctuations in water level, the trap may not remain entirely submerged.  The permit is only for the beaver, and does not allow for the destruction of dams per se, except as needed to set and hold the trap.  If a dam or other blockage made by beavers needs to be destroyed, the conservation officers do that.

The drowned otter, presumably “collateral damage,” was not referenced by the c.o., but I did hear of it from two different people—a walker who must know someone who knew, and a Highways rep who believed it to be true, but told me to ask another person, which I did and whose answer is detailed herein.  It’s probably no surprise that bycatch does happen.  Both otter and beaver mate for the long-term, but if a mate is lost, they do seek out a new mate.  New mates notwithstanding, death by drowning is not a pleasant result.

As for the reason for the trapping, c.o. Bakica said his database, which he admitted had some gaps and wasn’t waterproof, showed only “protection of infrastructure” as the reason for trapping.  The nearby Alaska Highway bed was one such—the water of a dammed pond can dissolve and erode the roadbed and, left undetected, imperil drivers—and, much further upstream at the Yukon Electric structures just beyond Icy Waters, beaver workings in the dams and penstocks were another.

During my 1979-‘80 stint in Whitehorse, fresh up from Regina, when I got the meter reader job that all the “bush hippies” had tried for (a quote from someone I worked with there back then), I read the meters in the entire Whitehorse region, and I ought to have thought of the Yukon Electrical hydro stations upstream (where I and my company Datsun made the trip once per month to read the meter), but it wasn’t until a helpful e-mail came that I twigged that power demands were the likely reason for the low water in the pumphouse pond.   However, two calls to Yukon Electrical found the communications person busy, and no message left, so I cannot confirm that waters were withheld due to power demands in the spring and summer of 2012.  It does seem the most plausible reason for the low water, and it is probably within their rights.

There were some beavers killed in 2011/‘12 but I was unable to get the numbers.  I still don’t know if the beavers’ absence is the root of the low water, or part of the reason.  The apparent return to full flow of the creek above the pond (between the upper and lower ponds) last weekend makes me think it had little to do with the beaver being killed.  It’s not that the dam is leaking, in other words, though it is.  It could be the beaver in the upper pond (again, not sure if they are still living there) have sequestered most of the flow.  (There are presently 2 dams at the exit from the upper pond—the main one, and a sub-dam that creates a nice little step-pond (photo included).  I still can’t understand why the upper pond is deep, the pumphouse pond (was) shallow, and I am not clear where the beavers were taken out.  Which pond held the beaver that were trapped, or was it both?  The lower pond surely cannot have an effect on the roadbed of the highway—it’s got to be 10 or 30 meters below highway level, and a kilometre or two distant—but perhaps beaver travel back and forth between ponds, so to kill a lower pond beaver is to kill both ponds’ beaver?

Speaking of travel, another of the reasons I’d conjectured for the need to eliminate dams (and, thus, beavers) was the passage of salmon for spawning.  I did see the entire carcass of a spent salmon two summers ago caught up in the detritus of the creek some 20 metres beyond the inner-forest footbridge (the one that is now impassable to ATVs and snowmachines), but have no idea if they can jump or wriggle over these impediments. Would the powers that be have taken out a dam for the sake of salmon?  Perhaps.  It just usually is human interests that garner the interest of wildlife managers—well, we do like our fish, so that is a possibility.

The least likely reason I came up with was that a new subdivision was being planned in the area near the highway and the “upper pond.”  I based this on nothing but the existence of stakes this fall in the College area.  I witnessed the tools of a two-man crew in the summer of 2012 by the cement-and-beam barrier not far north of the pumphouse pond, mapping the footpaths … for all I could tell (the men themselves were not there—possibly of on a break?).  That is, maybe there is no housing being planned, and they are making a map of trails.

(To be continued)

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Low Water, High Dungeon, and Dead Beavers (Part 3)

Serenity at the McIntyre Creek area | Photo by: Murray Munn

Text and photographs by: Murray Munn

(Part 3 of 4)

(Click here to read part 1)
(Click here to read part 2)
(Click here to read part 4)

One respondent walked the entire length of McIntyre Creek—the creek that feeds the two ponds—and counted zero chinook salmon this year, and has found salmon other years.  (I didn’t know salmon could be counted that way, that they could be discerned with any counting certainty in a fast-running creek with overhang and deadfall, but that’s another new thing to me.)  I learned that McIntyre Creek as we know it was not always thus, that its course has been modified over the century to a significant, if imperfectly understood, degree.  Whitehorse Copper and other developments had creek crossings, and the Dawson (and/or Kluane) Trail crossed it at points unknown.  McIntyre Creek, as a 1997 document by Al von Finster explained, once wended a quite different way than it winds today … and a bit more complicatedly than needs to be mapped out here.  We truly are busy beavers, we humans.

It should have been no surprise, but I have learned that, yes, beaver are trapped annually in the McIntyre Creek area and anywhere else where they tamper with man-made structures.  District Conservation Officer David Bakica told me that most years an average of 2 beaver are trapped in the area, with a high of 11 one year.  The trapping is done by a registered trapper using a Conibear C330, and set in water where it is unlikely a wandering dog will get caught in it; however, it may happen that due to fluctuations in water level, the trap may not remain entirely submerged.  The permit is only for the beaver, and does not allow for the destruction of dams per se, except as needed to set and hold the trap.  If a dam or other blockage made by beavers needs to be destroyed, the conservation officers do that.

The drowned otter, presumably “collateral damage,” was not referenced by the c.o., but I did hear of it from two different people—a walker who must know someone who knew, and a Highways rep who believed it to be true, but told me to ask another person, which I did and whose answer is detailed herein.  It’s probably no surprise that bycatch does happen.  Both otter and beaver mate for the long-term, but if a mate is lost, they do seek out a new mate.  New mates notwithstanding, death by drowning is not a pleasant result.

As for the reason for the trapping, c.o. Bakica said his database, which he admitted had some gaps and wasn’t waterproof, showed only “protection of infrastructure” as the reason for trapping.  The nearby Alaska Highway bed was one such—the water of a dammed pond can dissolve and erode the roadbed and, left undetected, imperil drivers—and, much further upstream at the Yukon Electric structures just beyond Icy Waters, beaver workings in the dams and penstocks were another.

During my 1979-‘80 stint in Whitehorse, fresh up from Regina, when I got the meter reader job that all the “bush hippies” had tried for (a quote from someone I worked with there back then), I read the meters in the entire Whitehorse region, and I ought to have thought of the Yukon Electrical hydro stations upstream (where I and my company Datsun made the trip once per month to read the meter), but it wasn’t until a helpful e-mail came that I twigged that power demands were the likely reason for the low water in the pumphouse pond.   However, two calls to Yukon Electrical found the communications person busy, and no message left, so I cannot confirm that waters were withheld due to power demands in the spring and summer of 2012.  It does seem the most plausible reason for the low water, and it is probably within their rights.

There were some beavers killed in 2011/‘12 but I was unable to get the numbers.  I still don’t know if the beavers’ absence is the root of the low water, or part of the reason.  The apparent return to full flow of the creek above the pond (between the upper and lower ponds) last weekend makes me think it had little to do with the beaver being killed.  It’s not that the dam is leaking, in other words, though it is.  It could be the beaver in the upper pond (again, not sure if they are still living there) have sequestered most of the flow.  (There are presently 2 dams at the exit from the upper pond—the main one, and a sub-dam that creates a nice little step-pond (photo included).  I still can’t understand why the upper pond is deep, the pumphouse pond (was) shallow, and I am not clear where the beavers were taken out.  Which pond held the beaver that were trapped, or was it both?  The lower pond surely cannot have an effect on the roadbed of the highway—it’s got to be 10 or 30 meters below highway level, and a kilometre or two distant—but perhaps beaver travel back and forth between ponds, so to kill a lower pond beaver is to kill both ponds’ beaver?

Speaking of travel, another of the reasons I’d conjectured for the need to eliminate dams (and, thus, beavers) was the passage of salmon for spawning.  I did see the entire carcass of a spent salmon two summers ago caught up in the detritus of the creek some 20 metres beyond the inner-forest footbridge (the one that is now impassable to ATVs and snowmachines), but have no idea if they can jump or wriggle over these impediments. Would the powers that be have taken out a dam for the sake of salmon?  Perhaps.  It just usually is human interests that garner the interest of wildlife managers—well, we do like our fish, so that is a possibility.

The least likely reason I came up with was that a new subdivision was being planned in the area near the highway and the “upper pond.”  I based this on nothing but the existence of stakes this fall in the College area.  I witnessed the tools of a two-man crew in the summer of 2012 by the cement-and-beam barrier not far north of the pumphouse pond, mapping the footpaths … for all I could tell (the men themselves were not there—possibly of on a break?).  That is, maybe there is no housing being planned, and they are making a map of trails.

(To be continued)

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Low Water, High Dungeon, and Dead Beavers (Part 2)

Shelby pausing in water, Lost Pond | Photo by: Murray Munn

Text and photographs by: Murray Munn
(Part 2 of 4)

(Click here to read part 1)
(Click here to read part 3)
(Click here to read part 4)

On the experts’ side of the story, one person—a retired biologist who admitted he had no time whatsoever for beavers (he’d once shot them at Wolf Creek, turning those waters roiling red)—pointed out that when one saw dead mature spruce, one knew that there had once been nice dry land in which the spruce could grow, but that beavers had made a pond that killed the spruce. And what was his point? He also wondered aloud, and without irony, if the beaver dam might not have been taken down by kids “looking for another place to play with their machines.” Thankfully, this has not happened, though I have seen people parked in the marsh sitting on their machines chatting.

As for the dead spruce … probably true, though I have thought black spruce did tend to grow in semi-wet areas more than some other species. Was this a bad thing, these disappointed spruce? Were beavers evil for drowning them? No more than secession is evil in arboriculture…first come birch and poplar and the understory, and eventually the prime species take over—the longer-growing pine and spruce, in the Yukon. One doesn’t see folks getting incensed by the spruce, and chopping them down. (Well, they do chop down the spruce, but not from ire. Humans love spruce … for their log piles.)

I e-mailed another recommended expert in a government department, and she phoned me back a week later, giving me a succinct few minutes of what she knew. When I asked if relocation of the doomed beaver had been considered, she replied, after a micro-pause, “To where?” I had to admit, I had no idea. We who live in the city like to think that there are endless unused ponds and lakes “out there,” but in fact if there’s a life-supporting pond, it’s all but guaranteed to harbour its full share of life. If it can support a beaver, it likely already does. If it can support five or 11, ditto. To drop a beaver into an inhabited pond is, perhaps, to do no one any favours. Whether it would get mauled by the current residents, or forced overland, I cannot say. Nature abhors a vacuum … and a full dustbag.

A case in point is the solo beaver that in the spring of 2010 moved into Long Lake (and I see in August 2014 that another beaver appears to be trying this, again). I have walked around that perfect-sized pond since 2001 or so, and I can say for certain that this was the first beaver to have tried Long Lake in that decade. Old chewed stumps attest to others having given it a go in previous times. That 2010 beaver is not there now. It lasted the one summer, maybe some of the fall. Maybe it managed to overwinter. There have been no cuttings this year, nor last. I’d like to know if it was the overabundance of dogs and their pet humans (cutting down on its ability to find and collect food and repair its lodge) that caused it to give up, or a lack of food, or a lack of a mate? Could it be that the ice freezes so low that there isn’t enough water—that the pond is too shallow, in other words?   No dug-up lodge or bits of fur (a bear or wolverine would have smelled the corpse) suggest the beaver got lonesome, and left, no doubt tremblingly humping it overland to the Yukon River in search of greener pastures. But I digress …

Extra Pond Below ‘Upper Pond,’ as of Aug 2012. McIntyre Creek flows off to the right; the otters often uses this creek as a way to get to the other pond--the lower pond (the College pumphouse pond). Photo: Murray Munn
Extra Pond Below ‘Upper Pond,’ as of Aug 2012. McIntyre Creek flows off to the right; the otters often uses this creek as a way to get to the other pond–the lower pond (the College pumphouse pond). Photo: Murray Munn

Back to the College area. As with Long Lake, I have walked these trails roughly since 2001 or 2002, when I first acquired my first dog. So, about a decade of experience with the College trails, always in the noon time zone.

So I have mostly impressions and hearsay, so far. The walking woman thought or knew that beavers had been trapped in an aqueous trap, plus one otter. I had no proof. I had neglected to ask her how she knew, not yet knowing I’d be working on this story. I didn’t often see beavers at either pond, myself.   Usually I’d hear their warning slap-and-splash, out of sight at the upper pond. The upper pond doesn’t offer much of a sightline, and the lower one…well, I guess they only came out at night, and I was always there at noon. Possibly I never saw one there … I believe I did, but can’t be sure. So I can’t say I knew for sure both ponds had beavers during my decade walking around them, which is generally around noon.

But the folks who called me or e-mailed assured me they had seen them, and regularly. They missed the ‘vee’ of the beavers’ path on the water, and the inevitable abundance their deeper, fuller ponds brought. Life abounded. The kingfishers are still there on occasion, but they do seem much more rare. The red-winged blackbird I heard and saw by its nest the past few years was not there in 2012. The eagles are still around both ponds, anecdotally more the upper (deeper) one; I wonder what their success rate is compared with other years? As with kingfishers, it must be easier to espy the fish in the lower pond now.

I have contacted the Yukon Fish & Game Association. I have contacted various people who worked for various government departments—conservation officers at Yukon Renewable Resources, people working for Highways. College professors (of related studies) contacted me with their knowledge or their impressions (one felt that there hadn’t been a functioning beaver dam at the pumphouse pond in 14 years, plus or minus, but I’ve only walked there a decade and I’m pretty sure there has been upkeep in that time by beavers…but the folks who contacted me by phone and e-mail are sure of it, and not more than a year or two previous to 2012. (The northern lodge near the dam does seem pretty old and disused—one person said 5 years since—but I’m told the more central lodge in the lower pond was the last one used, and may have been where the beavers were drowned.). I’m assured by the College instructor that the water quality of both ponds is very good, that invertebrates are alive and well, and that, since certain types that are present are quite intolerant of pollution, it’s a healthy ecosystem.

(To be continued)

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Low Water, High Dungeon, and Dead Beavers (Part 2)

Shelby pausing in water, Lost Pond | Photo by: Murray Munn

Text and photographs by: Murray Munn
(Part 2 of 4)

(Click here to read part 1)
(Click here to read part 3)
(Click here to read part 4)

On the experts’ side of the story, one person—a retired biologist who admitted he had no time whatsoever for beavers (he’d once shot them at Wolf Creek, turning those waters roiling red)—pointed out that when one saw dead mature spruce, one knew that there had once been nice dry land in which the spruce could grow, but that beavers had made a pond that killed the spruce. And what was his point? He also wondered aloud, and without irony, if the beaver dam might not have been taken down by kids “looking for another place to play with their machines.” Thankfully, this has not happened, though I have seen people parked in the marsh sitting on their machines chatting.

As for the dead spruce … probably true, though I have thought black spruce did tend to grow in semi-wet areas more than some other species. Was this a bad thing, these disappointed spruce? Were beavers evil for drowning them? No more than secession is evil in arboriculture…first come birch and poplar and the understory, and eventually the prime species take over—the longer-growing pine and spruce, in the Yukon. One doesn’t see folks getting incensed by the spruce, and chopping them down. (Well, they do chop down the spruce, but not from ire. Humans love spruce … for their log piles.)

I e-mailed another recommended expert in a government department, and she phoned me back a week later, giving me a succinct few minutes of what she knew. When I asked if relocation of the doomed beaver had been considered, she replied, after a micro-pause, “To where?” I had to admit, I had no idea. We who live in the city like to think that there are endless unused ponds and lakes “out there,” but in fact if there’s a life-supporting pond, it’s all but guaranteed to harbour its full share of life. If it can support a beaver, it likely already does. If it can support five or 11, ditto. To drop a beaver into an inhabited pond is, perhaps, to do no one any favours. Whether it would get mauled by the current residents, or forced overland, I cannot say. Nature abhors a vacuum … and a full dustbag.

A case in point is the solo beaver that in the spring of 2010 moved into Long Lake (and I see in August 2014 that another beaver appears to be trying this, again). I have walked around that perfect-sized pond since 2001 or so, and I can say for certain that this was the first beaver to have tried Long Lake in that decade. Old chewed stumps attest to others having given it a go in previous times. That 2010 beaver is not there now. It lasted the one summer, maybe some of the fall. Maybe it managed to overwinter. There have been no cuttings this year, nor last. I’d like to know if it was the overabundance of dogs and their pet humans (cutting down on its ability to find and collect food and repair its lodge) that caused it to give up, or a lack of food, or a lack of a mate? Could it be that the ice freezes so low that there isn’t enough water—that the pond is too shallow, in other words?   No dug-up lodge or bits of fur (a bear or wolverine would have smelled the corpse) suggest the beaver got lonesome, and left, no doubt tremblingly humping it overland to the Yukon River in search of greener pastures. But I digress …

Extra Pond Below ‘Upper Pond,’ as of Aug 2012. McIntyre Creek flows off to the right; the otters often uses this creek as a way to get to the other pond--the lower pond (the College pumphouse pond). Photo: Murray Munn
Extra Pond Below ‘Upper Pond,’ as of Aug 2012. McIntyre Creek flows off to the right; the otters often uses this creek as a way to get to the other pond–the lower pond (the College pumphouse pond). Photo: Murray Munn

Back to the College area. As with Long Lake, I have walked these trails roughly since 2001 or 2002, when I first acquired my first dog. So, about a decade of experience with the College trails, always in the noon time zone.

So I have mostly impressions and hearsay, so far. The walking woman thought or knew that beavers had been trapped in an aqueous trap, plus one otter. I had no proof. I had neglected to ask her how she knew, not yet knowing I’d be working on this story. I didn’t often see beavers at either pond, myself.   Usually I’d hear their warning slap-and-splash, out of sight at the upper pond. The upper pond doesn’t offer much of a sightline, and the lower one…well, I guess they only came out at night, and I was always there at noon. Possibly I never saw one there … I believe I did, but can’t be sure. So I can’t say I knew for sure both ponds had beavers during my decade walking around them, which is generally around noon.

But the folks who called me or e-mailed assured me they had seen them, and regularly. They missed the ‘vee’ of the beavers’ path on the water, and the inevitable abundance their deeper, fuller ponds brought. Life abounded. The kingfishers are still there on occasion, but they do seem much more rare. The red-winged blackbird I heard and saw by its nest the past few years was not there in 2012. The eagles are still around both ponds, anecdotally more the upper (deeper) one; I wonder what their success rate is compared with other years? As with kingfishers, it must be easier to espy the fish in the lower pond now.

I have contacted the Yukon Fish & Game Association. I have contacted various people who worked for various government departments—conservation officers at Yukon Renewable Resources, people working for Highways. College professors (of related studies) contacted me with their knowledge or their impressions (one felt that there hadn’t been a functioning beaver dam at the pumphouse pond in 14 years, plus or minus, but I’ve only walked there a decade and I’m pretty sure there has been upkeep in that time by beavers…but the folks who contacted me by phone and e-mail are sure of it, and not more than a year or two previous to 2012. (The northern lodge near the dam does seem pretty old and disused—one person said 5 years since—but I’m told the more central lodge in the lower pond was the last one used, and may have been where the beavers were drowned.). I’m assured by the College instructor that the water quality of both ponds is very good, that invertebrates are alive and well, and that, since certain types that are present are quite intolerant of pollution, it’s a healthy ecosystem.

(To be continued)

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Low Water, High Dungeon, and Dead Beavers (Part 1)

College pond showing lowest water ever seen Aug 31, 2012 | Photo: Murray Munn

Text and photographs by: Murray Munn

(Part 1 of 4)

(Click here to read part 2)
(Click here to read part 3)
(Click here to read part 4)

Sometimes there’s a story, but it’s subtle.  There are loads of hidden facts, even more piles of conjecture, but no easy way to tie it up into a tidy news bundle.  Damned if the sticks don’t fall out, the plaster loosen.  This is such a story.

I first wrote this by prior arrangement with The Whitehorse Star.  I never heard back, so I just shelved the story.  After all, it’s ridiculously long.  Hard work for an editor with only so much available space.  But one wants one’s work to see the light of day, so I have offered the story to this online-only, one-man venue, Yukon Times.  Gurdeep has shown interest, and I have changed references to “last month” or “this spring” to reflect the passage of 2 years’ time.  I assign no blame in this creative nonfiction story … sometimes animals’ and people’s needs are mutually conflicting, and I have no easy answers.  So this story is only intended as an exercise in fact-finding and storytelling.

Because so much of this story is impressionistic and the data either non-existent or not connectable, I have chosen to write this in the first person.  After all, it’s the result of my walks, my observations.  I’m the main source of information- but for the animals themselves, of course.

In the summer of 2012, in June and July, I noticed the lowest water levels I have ever witnessed at the “lower College pond,” or the “pumphouse pond.”  (It’s really, I’m told, a booster station, not a pumphouse.)  Since I didn’t write down dates and didn’t at that point plan a story, the low water might have occurred earlier.  I wanted to try to figure out what had happened.  That and the passing comment of a middle-aged female walker there in the late spring of 2012 who said that “They trapped—drowned—a few beaver and an otter here this year.”  Maybe no major calamity occurred that would affect the average citizen- no property loss, no flood, no edible species loss- but I would learn something, and pass it on.  And there may be results that could be avoided in future.

Was this lower water level a planned thing, an annual event I hadn’t noticed before, or nature taking its course?  If the former, what could be done differently?  If natural, can we busy humans ameliorate the results in some way—assure the water depth for nesting dabblers and divers?

Why were the thirty-odd blue-winged teals (well, let’s just say teal—that much, I know) all but sitting on the mud floor of the pond during the lowest water period?  Were they better off, or worse, than when it had been deep?  After all, they all seemed to be busy feeding in the muck, not having to show their tails and stretch their bills to the bottom.  What effect did the lower water have on nesting, and did the lowering first occur at a time when nests were built in the landlocked (in early summer) reeds on the southern edge of the pond?  Previous years one could see hens gliding back into the reed clusters where the nests must have been.  A couple summers ago I had tentatively identified canvasbacks doing this, along with more regular mallards and teals.  Not so this year.  Was the water lowered before the ducks could begin the nesting and brood-rearing, or was the drain pulled after the fact?

Grouse in spruce woods near College. | Photo: Murray Munn
Grouse in spruce woods near College. | Photo: Murray Munn

And what of the fish that I have always seen leaving their breaching circles on the surface, especially over on the north side by the dam, under the powerline that had been put in when the Canada Winter Games necessitated those dwellings up by the College …  Did they find enough water and was the food as available, less available, or about the same?  Are the kingfishers getting lucky?  Fish easier to see and get?  Less water surface would seem to suggest fewer insects getting glommed onto the pond, so perhaps fish are struggling … but I am not a biologist.  And what of the eagles’ success rate (there is always one or two) compared to when the water is deep?

Meanwhile, the “upper College pond,” the one that boasts a snowmobile association picnic table and that is very close to the Alaska Highway, was as deep as always.  This is the pond upon which I often find otter tracks and slides in winter (I have photos of these, the most recent an otter slide photo taken during the winter of 2011-‘12), and in summer the occasional fisherperson.  (Well, I’ve only ever seen fishermen or boys here.)  There are normally a few ducks here and there in the prime months but, oddly, never so many as I saw even in the lowest-water-level “pumphouse pond.”

Indeed, the low water level seemed to bring in the ducks, even if they were all the same type (to my untrained eye).  Whereas the most duck I saw at the upper pond were the 3 or 4 sunbathing ones on a warm little bank of a small island (no identification possible, although on October 14 another group of 7 teal took off from just the same spot), which awoke with a quack when I and my ageing dogs appeared on the shore to munch on sedges (the dogs, not I) and lap at the algae-blooming water.

Now, as these things tend to go, the pond has played a trick on me.  As I was locating expertise for this article, collating the information to try and discover what happened, lo and behold: the waters riz, and the creek as of the Sept 23 weekend was booming, as if it were spring and not closer to freeze-up.  I half expected to see log-drivers floating by with their balancing sticks and gaffes, Québécois expressions colouring the air.  What gives, and what gave?  Did the dam attrition without busy beavers working it, or was it torn up by humans?

Various “non-experts” e-mailed or found me in the phone book (I’d put out an Artsnet call for any ideas of what may have happened), and expressed their dismay or opinions and gave voice to their impressions that yes, the water’s never been this low … ever.  Others said that it had, but a long time ago.

(To be continued)

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Low Water, High Dungeon, and Dead Beavers (Part 1)

College pond showing lowest water ever seen Aug 31, 2012 | Photo: Murray Munn

Text and photographs by: Murray Munn

(Part 1 of 4)

(Click here to read part 2)
(Click here to read part 3)
(Click here to read part 4)

Sometimes there’s a story, but it’s subtle.  There are loads of hidden facts, even more piles of conjecture, but no easy way to tie it up into a tidy news bundle.  Damned if the sticks don’t fall out, the plaster loosen.  This is such a story.

I first wrote this by prior arrangement with The Whitehorse Star.  I never heard back, so I just shelved the story.  After all, it’s ridiculously long.  Hard work for an editor with only so much available space.  But one wants one’s work to see the light of day, so I have offered the story to this online-only, one-man venue, Yukon Times.  Gurdeep has shown interest, and I have changed references to “last month” or “this spring” to reflect the passage of 2 years’ time.  I assign no blame in this creative nonfiction story … sometimes animals’ and people’s needs are mutually conflicting, and I have no easy answers.  So this story is only intended as an exercise in fact-finding and storytelling.

Because so much of this story is impressionistic and the data either non-existent or not connectable, I have chosen to write this in the first person.  After all, it’s the result of my walks, my observations.  I’m the main source of information- but for the animals themselves, of course.

In the summer of 2012, in June and July, I noticed the lowest water levels I have ever witnessed at the “lower College pond,” or the “pumphouse pond.”  (It’s really, I’m told, a booster station, not a pumphouse.)  Since I didn’t write down dates and didn’t at that point plan a story, the low water might have occurred earlier.  I wanted to try to figure out what had happened.  That and the passing comment of a middle-aged female walker there in the late spring of 2012 who said that “They trapped—drowned—a few beaver and an otter here this year.”  Maybe no major calamity occurred that would affect the average citizen- no property loss, no flood, no edible species loss- but I would learn something, and pass it on.  And there may be results that could be avoided in future.

Was this lower water level a planned thing, an annual event I hadn’t noticed before, or nature taking its course?  If the former, what could be done differently?  If natural, can we busy humans ameliorate the results in some way—assure the water depth for nesting dabblers and divers?

Why were the thirty-odd blue-winged teals (well, let’s just say teal—that much, I know) all but sitting on the mud floor of the pond during the lowest water period?  Were they better off, or worse, than when it had been deep?  After all, they all seemed to be busy feeding in the muck, not having to show their tails and stretch their bills to the bottom.  What effect did the lower water have on nesting, and did the lowering first occur at a time when nests were built in the landlocked (in early summer) reeds on the southern edge of the pond?  Previous years one could see hens gliding back into the reed clusters where the nests must have been.  A couple summers ago I had tentatively identified canvasbacks doing this, along with more regular mallards and teals.  Not so this year.  Was the water lowered before the ducks could begin the nesting and brood-rearing, or was the drain pulled after the fact?

Grouse in spruce woods near College. | Photo: Murray Munn
Grouse in spruce woods near College. | Photo: Murray Munn

And what of the fish that I have always seen leaving their breaching circles on the surface, especially over on the north side by the dam, under the powerline that had been put in when the Canada Winter Games necessitated those dwellings up by the College …  Did they find enough water and was the food as available, less available, or about the same?  Are the kingfishers getting lucky?  Fish easier to see and get?  Less water surface would seem to suggest fewer insects getting glommed onto the pond, so perhaps fish are struggling … but I am not a biologist.  And what of the eagles’ success rate (there is always one or two) compared to when the water is deep?

Meanwhile, the “upper College pond,” the one that boasts a snowmobile association picnic table and that is very close to the Alaska Highway, was as deep as always.  This is the pond upon which I often find otter tracks and slides in winter (I have photos of these, the most recent an otter slide photo taken during the winter of 2011-‘12), and in summer the occasional fisherperson.  (Well, I’ve only ever seen fishermen or boys here.)  There are normally a few ducks here and there in the prime months but, oddly, never so many as I saw even in the lowest-water-level “pumphouse pond.”

Indeed, the low water level seemed to bring in the ducks, even if they were all the same type (to my untrained eye).  Whereas the most duck I saw at the upper pond were the 3 or 4 sunbathing ones on a warm little bank of a small island (no identification possible, although on October 14 another group of 7 teal took off from just the same spot), which awoke with a quack when I and my ageing dogs appeared on the shore to munch on sedges (the dogs, not I) and lap at the algae-blooming water.

Now, as these things tend to go, the pond has played a trick on me.  As I was locating expertise for this article, collating the information to try and discover what happened, lo and behold: the waters riz, and the creek as of the Sept 23 weekend was booming, as if it were spring and not closer to freeze-up.  I half expected to see log-drivers floating by with their balancing sticks and gaffes, Québécois expressions colouring the air.  What gives, and what gave?  Did the dam attrition without busy beavers working it, or was it torn up by humans?

Various “non-experts” e-mailed or found me in the phone book (I’d put out an Artsnet call for any ideas of what may have happened), and expressed their dismay or opinions and gave voice to their impressions that yes, the water’s never been this low … ever.  Others said that it had, but a long time ago.

(To be continued)

Posted on 4 Comments

Photo: Chadden Lake, Whitehorse, Yukon

Chadden Lake, Whitehorse, Yukon | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher
Chadden Lake, Whitehorse, Yukon | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher
Chadden Lake, Whitehorse, Yukon | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher
Chadden Lake, Whitehorse, Yukon | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher
Chadden Lake, Whitehorse, Yukon | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher

Chadden Lake is another Yukon beauty which is very close to the city of Whitehorse. It is reached from the Chadburn Lake Road in the Riverdale subdivision, across the bridge from downtown Whitehorse.