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Beaver Extirpation and Reintroduction

Over the past few centuries, PEI has lost some native animals and seen introductions of new, non-native ones. One of the most interesting stories is that of an animal that was both extirpated and introduced: Beaver (photo by Donna Martin, used with permission).

A PEI Beaver. Photo by Donna Martin, used with permission.

Extensive historical research by Doug Sobey found that PEI’s early explorers and settlers made no mention of Beaver here; given its importance to historical trade and exploration, its presence certainly would have been noted. Around 1901, Peter Horton showed Spurgeon Jenkins a beaver-cut log he found while harvesting peat in a bog near Mount Albion. Later archaeological research found ancient Beaver remains at several sites around PEI. The evidence suggests that Beavers were once present on the Island but had disappeared by the time of European settlement.


In the early 1900s, the success of fox farming led Island entrepreneurs to branch out into other species, including Beaver. In 1908, Robert Jenkins of the Mount Albion Fur Farming Company purchased a pair of Beavers from Ontario at a cost of $70 (about $2,300 today) and added them to his ranch. The initial pair were successful, and the Company imported another seven pairs from Ontario while the Provincial Government brought in five more.  By 1912, there were ads in local Island papers offering “good breeding animals” for sale, and at least one pair went to Summerside (there’s an interesting account of their escape and recapture!). By 1917, the Mount Albion Beavers had spread to nearby Johnstons and Morell Rivers and the population was estimated to be at least 500 animals; a Conservation Commission appointed by the Premier gave a more generous estimate of 2,000 Beavers.


Following Word War I, Beaver pelts were selling from $40 to $60 (about $600 to $925 today). Despite the Beaver Protection Act being passed in 1918, a combination of high prices and poaching lead to over-exploitation, and by 1933 a single colony of 10-12 beavers on the Jenkins’ property was thought to be the only one left in the province. Those animals were protected under the watchful eyes of the property owners and the RCMP.


That remained the only colony on the Island until 1941 when the PEI Government arranged to have three pairs brought in from New Brunswick for release in the Mount Albion / Avondale area. New Brunswick’s Chief Game Warden, Col. H.H. Ritchie, was tasked with live-trapping and importing the animals. A few years later he was given several pairs of Hungarian Partridge from PEI for release near Fredericton in return.


By 1948, Beavers had started to spread and conflicts between these aquatic engineers and nearby landowners increased. That year, a Beaver colony caused the washout of a private road near Mount Albion and the animals were consequently captured and moved to the O’Leary area. Complaints about flooding of pasture and woodland grew, and officials moved Beavers to less populated areas of eastern Kings County. But as they started damming road culverts and flooding land in these new areas, Beavers became less welcome there too. “First they wanted them, now they don’t!” decried one local writer. By 1950, the Department of Agriculture was under great public pressure to open a season on Beavers.


In November 1952, an open season was declared, originally indefinitely but soon amended to close at the end of February 1953. For the next decade, PEI had an annual Beaver season from early November to the end of December.  By 1966 there were once again concerns that Beavers were being over-harvested and the season was reduced to two weeks in November before being closed fully in 1971.


The Province launched a Beaver management program, and the season was re-opened two years later.   Numbers grew and the population expanded quickly in the east, less so in the west.  As a result, for a while there was an active program to relocate beavers into West Prince. (The program included one legendary account of a necessary stopover at a local motel where two Beavers spent a messy night in the bathtub!)


On PEI, Beavers are second only to humans in their ability to change the landscape. That ability creates conflicts when public roads or private lands are flooded and blocked. Fortunately, modern regulations allow Beavers to be sustainably managed and conflicts addressed, while ensuring that Beavers will always be part of PEI untamed!

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