Feature Articles

Beavers in West Bragg Creek

By Ann Sullivan

Beavers have been busy in West Bragg Creek. Visitors to the area will notice a beaver dam complex west of the parking lot that has been growing since the summer of 2019. Last spring beavers enlarged the dam so that the pond behind it now extends to the constructed base of Mountain Road.

Water in the dam has flooded about 100 metres of the Snowy Owl trail on the south side of Mountain Road, and outflow sometimes covers another short section of the trail downstream from the dam. Trail users can easily detour around the new wetland by following Mountain Road. Beaver dam with a beaver pond visible beyond.

A close-up shot showcases beavers' dam-building skills at a complex in West Bragg Creek, west of the parking lot and south of Mountain Road. Photo: Kathryn Hull

Learning to Love Beavers' Wetland Work

By Ann Sullivan

More than 350 years after a taste for fur hats nearly wiped out North America’s beaver population, landowners and ecologists have a new appetite for Castor canadensis. But this time, luckily for the beaver, we only want them for their work.

With their natural engineering skills for dam-building and water storage, beavers do an amazing job of creating diverse habitat. In fact, they’re so central to ecology that they’re known as a keystone species, one without whom whole ecosystems would – and have – failed. They’ve been shown to mitigate both flood and drought, raise water tables, regulate the flow of water and sediment in rivers and streams and help native fish populations. New research shows that their engineering work may also reduce damage from wildfires.

Beaver partially submerged at the edge of the water, with reeds and branches.

Beavers are the original watershed stewards. Photo: Miistakis Institute

Wetlands – Bigger is not Necessarily Better

By Ann Sullivan

To the person who wants to hike without getting wet feet, or the developer who wants solid ground on which to build, wetlands are a nuisance – soggy areas that seem little more than breeding grounds for mosquitoes. But to the habitat and organisms they support – including us humans! – wetlands are crucial players in the ecosystem. They work hard in their unassuming way, protecting land from both flood and drought, purifying water, creating habitat and recharging groundwater. Sadly, they’re often in danger of being destroyed in favour of development and “progress.” 

 

New App Allows Citizen Scientists to Create Inventory of Watercourse Crossings

by Ann Sullivan

Picture the vast Alberta wilderness – seemingly endless hectares of rolling plains, gentle foothills and steep mountains, each area braided by creeks, streams and rivers that change with the seasons and the years. Now picture the thousands of natural and built crossings: the bridges, culverts and fords that allow access to both sides of a waterway. What if you were take inventory of all the watercourse crossings in Alberta? It’s an ambitious project, but one that the provincial government has set in motion with the creation of a user-friendly app.

If all goes according to plan, the Alberta Watercourse Crossing Inventory (ABWCI) app, developed by Alberta Environment and Parks and launched in February 2020, will eventually document all stream crossings in Alberta. The information gathered will help further the goals of the province’s Watercourse Crossing Program (WCP), which aims to address threats to fish survival from poorly maintained and constructed crossings.

The beauty of the ABWCI app, according to Lesley Peterson, an Alberta provincial biologist with Trout Unlimited Canada, is that it’s accessible and simple to use. “This is something that can be used by anybody on any crossing,” Peterson said. “There’s just so many roads and trails out there,” she added. “Incorporating a citizen scientist component is such a good idea.” 

Flood Mitigation Measures Take Shape in Bragg Creek

by Ann Sullivan

The Elbow River and its banks have undergone millennia of change, shaped and sculpted by geological forces and the water’s flow. More recently, the flood of 2013 dramatically changed the river’s path through Bragg Creek. Now the area is being reshaped once again, this time by flood mitigation measures that include berms and retaining walls along a four-kilometre stretch of the river in Bragg Creek.

While some local residents welcome the new structures and the added protection they may bring, not everyone is happy to see the current work being done. The term “ecological grief” describes how some people feel about the loss of their connection to the Elbow and the possible harm to local species, from trout to deer to trees. 

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