Tag Archives: Ian McTaggart Cowan

An Ode to the Beaver

A report on the ecology of the Alta Lake region by naturalists Kenneth Racey and Ian McTaggart-Cowan from 1935 depicts a Whistler we all are familiar with. They reinforce the picture of a diverse and eco-rich valley with an abundance of species of animals and vegetation alike. Today the Whistler Biodiversity Project has documented over 2500 species in the area, expecting that number to be up to 3000 when new records have been finalized.

Despite the whopping number of species in our fertile little valley, there are a few things that have changed since Racey and McTaggart Cowen collated their data back in the 1930’s.

The two men provided the provincial museum with a detailed overview of the species we have in Whistler. This overview included a description of the state of the Castor Canadensis Pacificus, or Pacific Beaver. It states “The Beaver has been completely trapped out in the district for over twenty years.” It goes on to mention that even though the Beaver has been hunted to nonexistence, proof of their lifestyle still exists in the form of dams left behind.

With the halt of killing beavers for their pelts came the slow re-emergence of a creature whose activities literally shaped the waterways of our country. When water depth or quantities are not suitable, the extraordinary beaver will transform a stream in a forest into a large pond with nothing more then gnawed wood, sticks and mud. Several plant species rely on such water sources for habitat, so beavers can also be credited to many a saved plant.

Beaver

Canada, in the form of a swimming rodent. Photo by Bob Brett.

Beaver lodges and dams can be enormous. The largest on record spans 850 meters, which was found in Northern Alberta in 2007. It is possible that humans got the idea of a “nuclear” family from beavers, whose lodge consists of a pair of parents, their babies and yearlings. Monogamy anyone?

Their lodges can only be accessed from underwater. Beavers are great swimmers; with an extra, transparent eyelid that’s helps them see underwater. They have large webbed feet, which they use as flippers, and a paddle-shaped, rudder-like tail. Their tail is leathery and large, growing up to 38 centimeters. The sound of these large tails slapping the water also acts as an alarm to warn of a predator. On land the tail can prop up a sitting beaver and add extra balance while they are carrying supplies.

Our main industry, tourism, has to give thanks to the beavers as well for assuring that tour companies can operate in hot and dry years. With the improved management of this inspiring species we can assure their continued existence and in turn the continued flourishing of the Whistler valley.

 

Who can resist falling in love with this little guy?

 

By Shayna Ross-Kelly

Grizzlies in the Valley

As most of us are well aware, wildlife is constantly in flux. Species come and go; they migrate; they evolve; they become extinct. These transitions are especially evident living in Whistler, as wildlife surrounds us, so much so that one of the first things I learned when I got here concerned our ever-changing mammal population. I quickly learned that although grizzly bears once roamed our valley, they have since moved on from this social, tourist town.

mammals-of-the-alta-lake001Recently, the museum acquired the book Mammals of the Alta Lake Region of South-western British Columbia by Kenneth Racey and Ian McTaggart Cowan, published in 1935. This fantastic account eloquently outlines the various mammals that were known to exist in the Whistler (then Alta Lake) region. The account of grizzlies is slight, with only a few documented sightings before 1935; however, we know that an abundance of brown bears made their homes here in Whistler for many years before humans moved in.

Check-list-of-mammalsGrizzly bears were common to the alpine meadows and adjacent timber of the Whistler region. On June 26th, 1924, grizzlies were seen in Avalanche Pass, between Mount Overlord and London Mountain (now known as Whistler Mountain). Could you imagine seeing a grizzly around Whistler Mountain today? Of course, there is far too much excitement around the mountain for a grizzly nowadays, as brown bears require a great deal of personal space.

Grizzlyread

The book states that the latest grizzly bear tracks were sighted on December 5th, 1932, by John Bailiff; however, there have been grizzly sightings in Whistler since the book’s publishing. The most recent occurrence was in Function Junction in 1989. Sadly, the bear was shot by an RCMP officer after it displayed aggressive behaviour toward local dogs.  There are also reports that claim that the RCMP officers did not have the necessary expertise or equipment to safely tranquilize and relocate the animal.

By now it is common knowledge that grizzly bears are rarely spotted in and around Whistler, but we have also seen a great decrease in brown bears across the Sea to Sky Corridor in general over the last century. This steady decline of the grizzly population began with a vengeance during the twentieth century, and was unsurprisingly largely man-made.

Aside from Racey and Cowan’s book, the museum holds a few other accounts of brown bears in Whistler, including photographs of hunted bears, as well as a newspaper article by John Bailiff about his attempt to hunt a mother grizzly in the 1930s. Bailiff’s article is a rather upsetting read, as he takes us through his excitement at the thought of killing the maternal bear, with seemingly no compassion for the cubs alongside her. Thankfully, times have changed and continue to progress toward attitudes and laws that protect these ursine beauties that roam British Columbia.

Hunters with two trophy grizzly bears in the Singing Pass/Musical Bumps area, ca. 1916.

Hunters with two trophy grizzly bears in the Singing Pass/Musical Bumps area, ca. 1916.

For more information on bears in Whistler, and how you can be bear smart, visit the Bear Smart Society.