Ottawa: The most “wildlife unfriendly” city in Canada

The City of Ottawa hates wildlife. It seems to me that Canada’s capital city would prefer to live under a plastic bubble where no pesky rodents, Canada Geese, insects, amphibians, and other wildlife can enter rather than find ways to live in harmony with the fauna we share our land with. The City of Ottawa has shown time and time again that when it comes to dealing with wildlife conflicts, it believes there is only one solution: to kill the “pest” that is causing the problem. Whether it is gassing groundhogs, killing moose, encouraging the senseless slaughter of coyotes by refusing to end the coyote-killing contests, or actively live-trapping (i.e. KILLING) beavers and destroying their lodges, the City of Ottawa resorts to barbaric measures each time a conflict arises instead of considering progressive and humane alternatives.

The year-long story of two beavers fighting against both nature and the City of Ottawa for survival epitomizes Ottawa’s attitude toward and reaction to wildlife conflicts.

In the fall of 2011, two beavers took up residence in a stormwater pond in a residential area of Stittsville. The City, concerned about flooding issues, attempted to trap and kill the beavers. They could not move the beavers to a nearby wetland as it was already inhabited by other beavers, and the Ministry of Natural Resources does not allow animals to be relocated to a place more than one kilometre from where they are trapped. Residents opposed to the killing of the beavers maintained a vigil in Paul Lindsay Park, where the lodge was located, and organized demonstrations and a petition that flooded the mayor’s office with entreaties to allow the beavers to remain in the park over the winter, as it was too late in the season for them to move to a new area and build a new lodge before the water froze. They argued that the flood risk would be minimal over the winter, and that this would give the City of Ottawa time to come up with a better solution to the problem and to develop a much-needed Wildlife Strategy to deal with future conflicts. In early November 2011, Mayor Watson succumbed to public pressure and announced that the City would not proceed with its plan to trap and kill the beaver family.

Beaver (Castor canadensis) at Billings Bridge, December 2011

On June 29, 2012, right before the Canada Day long weekend, the City decided the beavers could no longer remain in the stormwater pond and had City staff destroy the beaver lodge in Paul Lindsay Park. The City stated in a notice to residents: “The City anticipates that removal of the lodge from the stormwater facility in Paul Lindsay Park will prompt the beavers to relocate from the stormwater facility to a more appropriate, natural habitat nearby. Any second-year beaver kits (i.e. young beavers) should already have begun the process of dispersal. Any first-year kits (i.e. born this winter) should now be capable of leaving the lodge with their parents. Removal of the lodge will occur late in the day, allowing the beavers to relocate at night, along the same routes they used to reach the stormwater facility. Removal of the lodge will begin by hand to ensure protection of the beavers, and will continue with equipment once any resident beavers have exited the lodge.”

The destruction of the lodge made a bad situation worse. In the days following the destruction, one of the two beavers (the female, nicknamed Lily) was observed trying to rebuild the lodge. The male, nicknamed Lucky, has not been seen since. A few days later, the female was photographed sleeping on the bank wih two babies. City staff continued throughout the summer to thwart her efforts to build a new lodge, leaving the three beavers homeless. Not only did the attempt to drive out the beavers fail spectacularly, the City was patently wrong when they said that babies are born in the winter. While beavers do in fact mate in the winter, their kits are born after a gestation period of three and a half months in May or June, meaning that Lily’s kits were likely only weeks old when the destruction occurred. Further, the option of relocating the beavers to a nearby wetland had already been considered and rejected as there are already beavers nearby and, being territorial mammals, would not have tolerated the intrusion.

Beaver Kit at Mud Lake, July 2010

On Labour Day, the Ministry of Natural Resources gave its permission for the beavers to be relocated more than one kilometre away. The following night the three beavers were trapped and relocated to Morris Island, a conservation area on the Ottawa River, in a move that may very well doom the entire family given that it is too late in the year for Lily to establish a new territory, build a lodge and gather a sufficient food cache to see both herself and her kits through the winter. While relocation is certainly a better outcome than killing (except in Lucky’s case), the Ministry and City left the decision far too late to give the Stittsville beavers a fighting chance of success.

As for the Wildlife Strategy the City has been developing? Last week, two wildlife groups working to help draft a new wildlife policy for the city suddenly quit. A spokesperson for the Ontario Wildlife Coalition cited “very serious concerns not only with the substance of the report, but the process used” while the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre spokesperson was embarrassed by the City’s continuing policies of “shooting moose, trapping and killing beavers and coyotes, and gassing groundhogs”. Both wildlife groups claim that the team has not met for the past year and that the draft of the policy they were given didn’t reflect their recommendations. The entire story, including a timeline of events relating to the Stittsville beavers, the draft Wildlife Strategy, and press releases from both wildlife groups regarding their decisions to resign from the group can be found here (scroll down past the photos).

Beaver at work – July 2011, Algonquin Park

Whenever conflicts arise between wildlife and humans, they are usually described as “wildlife problems”. It seems to me that the City of Ottawa doesn’t have a wildlife problem; it has a politician problem. City council has a long-standing and disturbing habit of killing animals without informing or consulting the public or wildlife experts and taking action when it thinks no one is looking (i.e., in the dead of night). Despite the enormous public outcry, suggestions from wildlife experts, and media coverage throughout this entire affair, city council have not made any progress in formulating a policy that takes the interests or the welfare of the animals into consideration. A new petition has been organized, asking Mayor Jim Watson to stop the killing of wildlife in Ottawa. It is being hosted on the same website that hosted the petition to save Marineland’s animals.

Petition: Stop the killing of wildlife in Ottawa

I implore you to sign it, wherever you may live, and to share it with other lovers of wildlife in the hope that we can prevent the cruel and senseless killing of Ottawa’s wildlife or another situation such as the one the Stittsville beavers had to endure.

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6 thoughts on “Ottawa: The most “wildlife unfriendly” city in Canada

  1. Thanks Gillian for this excellent post. Earlier in the year, during the Holmwood tree-clearing incident, I was informed by the mayor that the city had a staff biologist that assessed the street for breeding birds. I had not heard we had any such person. If so, is the mayor getting advice from such a person or is the advice being ignored. Though to be fair to the mayor, I doubt he micro-manages the city to the extent that he would be the one making the decision on this. It’s also nice to see the MNR bend their 1-kilometre rule. A rule that has led to the deaths of many animals. I’m not sure I see much hope though. This is a city that dumps millions of gallons of raw sewage in to our rivers but thinks goose-poo is a problem?

    • Thanks for commenting, Chris! I remember hearing about the staff biologist and wondering if it was a birder who could identify a Chipping Sparrow or knew what birdsong s/he was hearing. I see you caught my reference to the Canada Goose “problem” at AHP at the beginning of the post!

  2. Hi Gillian, Every time I read about the beavers I just wonder if there is something that can be done for Lily – build a temporary shelter for them, create a big log pile that they can use for food in the winter. I know that now, they are probably deep in the woods somewhere but I just feel like the most proactive thing would be to help those three beavers. I’m not in Ottawa right now, am at school but I wish there was more that could be done.

    • Hi Urban Girl! I completely understand your feelings and wish the same. When I visited the Beaver Boardwalk in Hinton last summer, I was surprised that the beavers there are seen as part of the community; people actually bring in aspen branches each September for the beavers to add to their winter food cache. [You can read about my visit there at here.] It would be great if we could find the beavers at Morris Island, and perhaps do something similar. Perhaps I’ll head out there next weekend and see if there are any signs of them .

      • Do tell me if you think there is something that can be done – I’m home for Thanksgiving and for part of my reading week. I really like the idea of bringing aspen branches or doing something!

  3. It’s heartbreaking to read about the treatment of these poor beavers, and all others that Ottawa decides are unwanted. It’s a shame that the Mayor is not a more compassionate human being, who realizes we are here to SHARE this world with other species, not kill them because “they are in the way”.

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