Work is expected to ramp up this fall on logging the Watson Slough to make way for the Site C dam reservoir, but BC Hydro says it will first need to breach beaver dams and cull the animals from the wetland before crews can begin.
The slough was given a reprieve from logging in 2017 after pressure from the regional district to preserve it for as long as possible. With reservoir filling slated to begin as early as next year, BC Hydro says it will begin lowering water levels in the slough this fall so that standing trees can be safely cleared over the winter.
Spokesman Greg Alexis says work is being timed to "minimize the risk to amphibians and migratory birds" but that the beavers first need to be removed from the wetland so they don't repair the breaches of their dams.
He says euthanizing the beavers was determined to be the most humane way to remove them from the slough as the animals are known to be aggressive and territorial, and “very susceptible to predation” without a lodge.
“The likelihood of a beaver surviving relocation is quite low, while the stress of trapping and relocation will be quite high,” Alexis said. “Additionally, suitable locations for release that are absent of established beavers are rare. This is problematic because beavers are very territorial and will fight to defend their territory.”
An estimated 90 hectares will be cleared at Watson Slough, though there is no estimate on the number of beavers to be removed. Alexis says meat from the beavers will be shared with local First Nations.
“The trapper doing the work will be making use of the fur pelts and sharing the meat with local Indigenous groups,” he said.
Alexis says the slough needs to be cleared of standing trees this winter so they won’t pose a safety hazard once the reservoir is filled.
"Lowering the water level at Watson Slough is necessary so that most of the standing trees can be cleared safely over the winter," he said. "Prior to lowering the water level, we’ll need to breach the beaver dams. To make sure beavers don’t repair the breaches, we have to remove them."
Despite the loss of wetland and the impending elimination of the beavers, Alexis says BC Hydro has partnered with Ducks Unlimited to replace what’s being lost and targeting 500 hectares for wetland compensation projects. The goal is no net loss of wetland functions.
In 2019, 50 hectares of new wetland area was added by Ducks Unlimited by Clayhurst. Alexis says 135 hectares of wetland is being worked on this summer 50 kilometres south of Dawson Creek, with another 40 hectares being worked on 30 kilometres northeast of Fort St. John.
“The compensation opportunities identified so far are a combination of building new wetlands, saving established wetlands that were already under threat of being lost in the region, and incorporating wetland construction in areas that can be reclaimed once project construction is complete,” Alexis said.
Ducks Unlimited says its mandate remains wetland conservation and is working with BC Hydro to compensate for Site C impacts, including Watson Slough. However, a spokesperson said the organization is not directly involved in the decommissioning of Watson Slough and was unable to comment further.
“The best way to conserve wetlands is to avoid impacts wherever possible. Where this is not possible, we establish partnerships to deliver wetland restoration and compensation projects,” said Sarah Nathan, the organization’s provincial operations manager for B.C.
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative.
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