Beaver abundance and distribution

Elk Island National Park

Elk Island National Park is found in the Beaver Hills. As its name suggests, the terrain and vegetation of the area provides excellent beaver habitat. By flooding low lying areas and maintaining water levels during droughts, beavers are ecosystem engineers that create wetland habitat for waterfowl, amphibians and other species. As such, beavers are a keystone species in Elk Island. Significant changes in beaver populations in the park may indicate the need for active management or further study.

Beaver populations in the park are estimated by counting the number of active beaver lodges observed during helicopter surveys in the fall. How can you tell an active lodge from an inactive lodge? Active lodges are covered in mud and have a stockpile of food for the winter, called a food cache, made of young trees that beavers store in the water near the entrance to the lodge. Inactive lodges typically have vegetation growing on top (beavers will “mow their lawns” if they’re still living there) and there won’t be a food cache in the pond outside. There are currently several hundred active beaver lodges in the park, each of which is typically home to 5 to 7 beavers.

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