by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry’s your man. (And we’re happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
The Beast that Burns; the Saviors We Kill
May 19, 2016. Last night, The Beast was headed toward the border, with about three miles to go.
“The Beast” is the name of the giant wildfire that erupted in northern Alberta and, growing as I type, has now consumed some 423,000 hectares (1,633 square miles) of boreal forest. It has forced the evacuation of nearly 90,000 people. We’re seeing massive destruction of infrastructure and the deaths of uncounted thousands of wild animals, toxifying the air and defying Herculean efforts to bring it under control.
And it is, tragically, only one of hundreds of fires raging in forests throughout so much of the continent, their numbers increasing as global climate change results in an ever warmer climate—drier in some places and wetter in others, but heating up the planet more rapidly than even the most pessimistic research indicated.
What is of great value, what is needed in our woods and forests, is water: reservoirs of water, high water tables, ponds, and impoundments.
But, we are not a rational species. If we were, we’d listen to scientists like Glynnis Hood and Suzanne Bayley, whose published research* (and that of other scientists and studies) shows us that there is a hedge against the drying effects of global climate change and its ability to trigger massive, deadly fires…
And, that is the beaver!
When beaver fur was widely used by the fur industry, populations of the species were supressed by trapping. With decline in fur values, beavers are repopulating. This can cause problems, as when, building dams, beavers block culverts, cause flooding, or even chew down valuable trees. Most such conflicts can be easily resolved without harming the beavers: valuable allies in protecting the environment.
So, what did the province of Saskatchewan do? It allowed a “beaver derby”: a 40-day contest in which 601 beavers were killed (out of an annual, province-wide kill of about 38,000). It is Saskatchewan’s border that The Beast was approaching last night.
The argument was made that these were beavers who would have otherwise been killed and wasted, and that many carcasses are left to rot. I don’t doubt that, but this is the 21st Century and it’s past time for us to stop demonizing wildlife and start learning to co-exist.
The work by Hood and Bayley, in 2008, showed that the beaver was the single most important factor in the amount of open water in the very place where it is most needed—the place where the hot Beast prowls, burning its way through our staggering wall of willful ignorance, illuminating our base, self-destructive ways.
There have always been beavers, fires, and forests. What’s new is our levels of technology, connected to unbearable hubris, as we impose our collective madness onto a world increasingly under siege (ironically, a world that is also increasingly losing its ability to support us and our demands upon it).
As we look into the glowing eye of The Beast, it is our reflection that stares back.
Keep wildlife in the wild,