Beavers: Radical Rodents and Ecosystem Engineers is on the three-book shortlist for the 2022 City of Victoria Children’s Book Prize. This $5,000 prize, established in 2008 by the late Mel Bolen of Bolen Books, is awarded annually to an author or illustrator from the Greater Victoria, BC, region.
The Children’s Book Prize and the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize (for adult books), a partnership between the City of Victoria and Brian Butler of Butler Brothers Supplies, are overseen by the Victoria Book Prize Society. The finalists for both prizes are selected by an independent jury comprised of representatives from the local literary arts community.
This year’s winners will be announced at an in-person gala emceed by CBC’s Kathryn Marlow on Wednesday, October 12, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased from the Victoria Book Prizes website.
I’m delighted and honoured to be up for a City of Victoria book prize for the third time. The first two were for the Butler Book Prize: Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver was shortlisted in 2016; Children of the Klondike was shortlisted in 2010 — and won! Here’s a photo of this happy author on that memorable night.
A few months ago I began a new job as the associate editor of the SEJournal, the Society of Environmental Journalists‘ weekly digital news magazine. During the two decades that I’ve been a member of SEJ, I have attended annual conferences, volunteered as a mentor and developed important friendships with many other members, even some I’ve never met in person. I’m delighted to now have this opportunity to deepen my relationship with the organization and to contribute to it in a new way.
In an article announcing my hiring, SEJournal editor Adam Glenn explained that the long-vacant associate editor post was being filled as part of an effort to increase contributed features for the long-standing publication, which relaunched from a quarterly print magazine to an online weekly in 2016. The team I joined includes Adam, a staff writer and a dedicated crew of volunteer editors, along with countless contributors.
“We have been wanting to bring more of the experiences and know-how of SEJ members and other environmental journalists onto our pages,” Adam said in the article. “Frances will without doubt help us do that. She’s a standout editor, with a wealth of journalism background and strong editorial skills, but also with deep connections to environmental journalism and to the SEJ family.”
The NSTA–CBC list was announced on Dec. 7, 2021, and will be published in the February 2022 issues of Science and Children, Science Scope, and The Science Teacher. At the National Science Teaching Association’s annual conference, NSTA Presidential Awardee educators will share strategies for using each of these books in the classroom. Last spring, the Children’s Book Council chose Beavers for its May 2021 Hot Off the Press list.
Beavers is also on the 2021-2022 BC Books for BC Schools, put out by the Association of Book Publishers of BC. The titles on this list are selected by teacher-librarians, who consider the books’ relevance to school curricula. The subject tags for Beavers in the catalogue include Science, Social Studies and English Language Arts.
When Morris Shumiatcher launched Smithbilt Hats near the Calgary Stampede grounds in 1919, most people still thought beavers were good for one thing only: their pelts. Today, we recognize the importance of beavers as habitat creators, water stewards and climate change allies – and organizations like the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society are working hard to figure out how to coexist with these ecosystem engineers. In many ways, our present-day conflicts with beavers are a legacy of the colonial fur trade. But the beaver benefits that we’re still learning about go back much further in time. This brief history of beavers will begin with their debut 37 million years ago, fast forward through the rise and fall of the dozens of early species, and then zero in on what has happened to North American beavers since Europeans showed up 500 years ago. As our relationship with beavers continues to evolve, a historical perspective can help inform the future.
To register for this event, please visit Historic Calgary Week’s program page.
Join me on Nov. 19, 2020, for “Once They Were Hats: A Brief History of a Radical Rodent” – a Zoom presentation.
As part of the Friends of Fish Creek speaker series, I’ll be making a virtual visit to Calgary this month to talk about beavers. My presentation will run from 7:00 to 8:00 pm MT on Thursday, Nov. 19, and since it will happen online, anyone can attend.
There is a lot of history behind our present-day dealings with Castor canadensis. The beaver conflicts that we are working to manage today are in many ways a legacy of the colonial fur trade. And the beaver benefits that we are still learning about are rooted in millennia of beaver presence on this continent. This brief history of beavers will begin with their debut 37 million years ago, fast forward through the rise and fall of the dozens of early species, and then zero in on what’s happened to North American beavers since Europeans showed up 500 years ago. As our relationship with beavers continues to evolve, a historical perspective can help inform the future.
The talk is free for Friends of Fish Creek Members and for youth 16 years of age and younger with a registered adult. It’s $10 for non-members. You can purchase tickets and register through eventbrite.
I’m excited to be heading to Baltimore in early March for BeaverCON2020, North America’s very first East Coast beaver conference. This three-day event (March 3-5, 2020) is aimed at resource professionals, researchers and practitioners who want to learn what works in beaver conflict management and watershed restoration.
Organizers Mike Callahan, founder and president of the Beaver Institute, and Scott McGill of Ecotone, a beaver-friendly ecological restoration firm, have put together a dynamite agenda. I’m presenting on the first morning. Then I get to sit back and take in all the other talks. Reading the speakers‘ bios and their presentation abstracts, I know it’s going to be a fascinating few days. Interested? Registration is still open.
If you’re looking for beaver enlightenment on the west side of the continent, watch for the 2021 State of the Beaver Conference. This “international conclave for beaver ecology” is held every two years in Oregon. The 2019 version was the sixth and given the enthusiasm of participants, it’s sure to continue.
I recently had the pleasure of taking part in a symposium on Putting Beavers to Work for Watershed Resiliency and Restoration in Calgary. This two-day event was organized by the Miistakis Institute and the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society, more commonly known as Cows and Fish. It brought together more than 60 people with a range of beaver interests, including landowners, land managers, academics, policy makers and independent Castorophiles from across western Canada and the U.S.
Day 1 was filled with fascinating presentations and panel discussions. Most of the presentations, including mine, have now been uploaded to the Miistakis Institute’s website and can be accessed here (under the box titled “Symposiums, Webinars, and Workshops” click on “Videos, Factsheets, and More!”). On Day 2, we all boarded a bus for a field trip to look at coexistence tools installed in Calgary and surrounding area. And outside of the formal presentations, there were many exchanges of ideas and insights. Stay tuned for the next Putting Beavers to Work symposium, a year or two from now.
Norine Ambrose, Executive Director of symposium co-sponsor Cows and Fish.
Inspecting a pond leveler in Calgary’s Griffith Woods Park.
Pierre Bolduc explains how he brought beavers back to his property near Bragg Creek.
Dan Rodricks of The Baltimore Sun produces a podcast called Roughly Speaking. In episode 352, he ponders the question “Can the Mighty Beaver Save the Bay?” — meaning, of course, the Chesapeake Bay. To find answers, he visits a beaver dam at Bee Tree Run, and interviews Mike Callahan, the founder of the Beaver Institute, Scott McGill, the founder and CEO of Ecotone, and me.
You can listen to the 42-minute episode via The Baltimore Sun or on the Ecotone website. Hear what Rodricks discovered about the history of beavers in the Chesapeake region and how beaver dams create critical habitat for a multitude of species, while filtering sediment and damaging nutrients from waters that flow to the Chesapeake Bay. We can’t expect beavers to undo all the damage that has been done, but if we let them go about their business, they can be allies in saving the Bay.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, writing and talking about beavers over the past ten years – ever since I started researching Once They Were Hats. And I’ve been gratified to see so much interest in this species that is so vital to our well-being. As I often say, “Beavers are trending.” But not everyone is happy about the beaver’s rebound. Sharing territory with such a gifted and persistent ecosystem engineer challenges our desire to be in control of landscapes and waterways, and we often forget that things looked very different back when North America had a full complement of beavers. With all this in mind, I decided to do some more writing about beavers, but this time for the ear. To my delight, one of my favourite CBC radio programs, Ideas, embraced my idea.
Capturing the sounds of a thriving beaver pond in the Alberta foothills. (Photo credit: Pierre Bolduc).
“Four centuries of fur-trade trapping nearly wiped beavers off the North American map. Now they’re back, big time, and we’re discovering that sharing the landscape with such tenacious ecosystem engineers isn’t always easy. We’re also learning that there are compelling reasons to try to coexist with this iconic species. Contributor Frances Backhouse explores how two control freaks — humans and beavers — can get along.”
The British Columbia coastline once pulsed with action around salmon canneries. Today, guided by Indigenous leadership, only one cannery processing wild salmon remains. Hakai Magazine, August 14, 2018.
“The stench of fish offal and the screams of gulls: a century ago, the presence of a cannery on the British Columbia coast was unmistakable, even with your eyes closed. Open them and you saw gulls and eagles circling and diving to pluck discarded fish heads and entrails from the ocean around the wooden buildings perched on pilings. A steady parade of fishing boats navigated the bloodied water to pull alongside the cannery and offload their catches. Inside, an ankle-deep layer of slippery salmon awaiting butcher knives covered the gut shed’s plank floor, and the production line operated at a dizzying pace as ranks of workers scaled, washed, and chopped up the salmon, before sealing it in tin cans.
“British Columbia’s salmon runs seemed infinite in those days, and businessmen determined to profit from this bounty by turning it into a commodity that could be shipped worldwide staked out their ground along the coast. In 1918, shortly before the industry began to consolidate, the number of canneries peaked at 80. Now, 100 years later, only a single commercial cannery dedicated to processing wild British Columbia fish remains on Canada’s west coast. Far from being an archaic relic, St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse is at the forefront of a new era in the province’s fishing industry—an era in which First Nations communities are regaining control of the marine resources that have sustained them for tens of thousands of years.”