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A beaver in Gatineau Park, Quebec. (Globe files/Globe files)
A beaver in Gatineau Park, Quebec. (Globe files/Globe files)

Beavering away to save a lake Add to ...

You could forgive the beavers of Stanley Park for being confused.

If only, they must be wondering, those humans could make up their minds.

On Monday, the Vancouver Park Board will vote on whether to begin the process of restoring and enhancing the park's Beaver Lake.

The lake, you see, has become more of a bog these days.

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The report going to the park board on Monday says between 1936 and 1997, the lake's surface area has shrunk by 40 per cent.

This is blamed largely on human intervention: The building of the Stanley Park causeway in 1938, for instance, cut the watershed in half. Right now the city pumps water into the lake to keep it from drying out completely in summer months.

As well, there was the planting of water lilies the same year. As lovely as they are, those invasive lilies along with a generous sprinkling of yellow irises have starved the lake of oxygen, and have propelled it rather rapidly into the bog-like state you see today.

In short, those plants need to go and the lake needs to be dredged. That's what park board staff have recommended and what the board will vote on Monday night.

Enter the confused beavers.

Posted prominently on the lake trail is an earnestly illustrated sign, informing visitors that the "bogging" of the lake is a natural process, though accelerated somewhat by the planting of those lilies and irises.

The sign declares definitively: "Forest Lakes have short life spans, and Beaver Lake is no exception."

It goes on to describe the process by which the forest will eventually reclaim the lake, turning it first to bog, and then consuming it completely. The accompanying diagrams underscore the inevitability of it all.

The lake has 50 years, tops.

The sign is mounted on a beaver-proof metal pole, but placed at such a height that even a moderately industrious beaver could easily read it.

Every day, since the beavers returned to the lake in 2008, they've been looking at this sign, which spells out in graphic detail not just how their world will end, but when. There is no suggestion in the text that this future can be rewritten.

As a result, they have been, um, busy.

Digging up lilies from the floor of the lake, pulling down irises.

Gnawing down saplings and dragging them to the iron bars of the weir that maintains the level of the lake. Packing the trunks and branches with mud, piling it as high and as densely as they can.

Anything to prevent the water from trickling out.

This has not gone unnoticed by the park board.

"They're frantically digging up sedimentation and they're trying to block the drainage," park board commissioner Loretta Woodcock told me earlier this week. "I think they're trying to tell us something and this board is paying attention, and we'd like to ask the public if they agree with the resident beavers," she said. "I think if they could talk to us they would tell us they don't want the lake to disappear."

If the beavers could talk, I'm thinking they might also say, "Hey, why do you keep tearing down our dams? We're trying to do the same thing here. And while you're at it, could you please remove that wire mesh wrapped around the tree trunks that makes it impossible for us to chop down the trees?

"Oh, and that sign is depressing."

Ms. Woodcock says once the board's "extensive visioning process" is finished, the sign may no longer apply.

"If it turns out after the visioning process, the public say, 'Well we don't quite agree, we don't want to see Beaver Lake disappear; we value it too much - its aesthetic beauty and its biodiversity,' then we'll take that sign out and we'll put something else in," she said.

One wonders how the inevitability of nature, the irrefutable facts presented in the sign, could be a matter for public debate, or something to be decided on in a vote.

But such is the power of the Vancouver Park Board.

Somewhere in this there is an lesson. About the facts changing while the truth remains constant. Or about the facts being altered to reveal a more convenient truth.

Or about a lake being dredged not to improve biodiversity but to make it more appealing aesthetically. A place tourists might appreciate more than a bog.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One in Vancouver. 88.1 FM and 690 AM.

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeBC

 

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