A new study looks at how beaver migration is affecting the Inuit

A new study looks at how beaver migration is affecting the Inuit


A new study hopes to provide answers to Arctic communities already feeling the impact of beavers on the tundra.

As more and more beavers migrate north, there is still much we don’t know about how the Northwest Territories are changing.

Despite their reduced size, beavers’ tendency to change waterways can have far-reaching effects on the land they live on – and, by extension, the communities around them.

A new project called Barin, which stands for Beavers and Socio-ecological Resilience in Inuit Nunangat, is looking at beaver-related changes in streams and lakes, and how those changes affect people.



The project is led by principal researchers Helen Wheeler (Anglia Ruskin University) and Phillip Marsh (Wilfrid Laurier University) in collaboration with Herb Nakimayak from the Inuvialuit Fisheries Joint Management Committee and other partners.

In Alaska, scientists like Ken Tape have been studying the beaver issue for years. In 2021, Tape created the Arctic Beaver Observation Network (A-Bon) to help researchers from Alaska, Canada, Europe and Asia collaborate and share results with local land managers.

Canada is catching up, but Tape says the nation is lagging behind in learning and understanding the scale of the problem.

The first step is to find out where the change is happening. The second step is to find its impact.



“For beavers, that becomes very difficult,” Tape said. “A anbeavers affect all aspects of the ecosystem in the plains: permafrost, carbon cycling, fish, water quality… I mean, it completely changes the landscape from this narrow channel to a flat wetland.”

While the beaver’s impact has been widely studied in the South, it’s unclear how much of that research will apply to the North.

“It’s a very different place,” Tape said. “There are two main differences I often cite about the Arctic. First, it is held together by permafrost. So the land is more susceptible to changes from hydrology.

“One big difference is that these are often temperature-controlled systems. In other words, the water is too cold to allow much biota to exist there. And you heat it right.”

Tape, along with Marsh, Wheeler and a number of other A-Bon researchers, published Beaver Engineering: Tracking New Disturbances in the Arctic to chart some of these changes.

Low water makes work ‘more important’

With Barin, Wheeler hopes to produce research that answers important public questions about the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in particular, and how to do it.

“We’re led as much as possible by the FJMC,” said Wheeler, who uses the acronym Inuvialuit Joint Fisheries Management Committee.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to create a product that’s going to be useful — whether that’s continuous monitoring methods in the community or data products that can be used and shared.”



Georgia Hole (postdoctoral researcher, Anglia Ruskin University) and Helen Wheeler (associate professor, Anglia Ruskin University) in a packraft, leaving the beaver lodge. Photo: Georgia Hole

For Nakimayak, who chairs the committee, the study has become more stressful since it began.

“Beavers have a huge impact on fish and fish habitats,” he said. “With low water this year, it has made this issue a problem. It is more important for us to do this research. ”

The study focused on Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik, and watersheds along the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk route. Nakimayak says he has seen significant changes in these areas firsthand.

“There were eight dams in Hans Creek last year, and this year there were ten,” he said.

“Hans Creek feeds into Husky Lakes, and is one of the most productive streams in the area. With the amount of work – whether it’s the people fishing in Husky Lakes, and the beavers – that’s going to really affect our ecosystem. Whales and marine life depend on the fish in Husky Lakes.”

Researchers are collecting drone footage near Trail Valley Creek. Photo courtesy of Helen Wheeler

Wheeler says the project aims to address three main issues: how much the beaver population is growing, how it affects fish and fish and habitat, and, how that change affects the surrounding community.

It may sound simple, but the scope of work this will require is ambitious: using NASA satellite data and mathematical modeling to predict beaver movement and hydrological changes, holding community workshops and collecting oral history, and collecting ground data and mapping permafrost. .

Barin is also involved in an ongoing Canadian Agency project led by Marsh that uses satellites to measure water levels in all lakes in the area.



Yannan Wang of the University of Guelph is working on the beaver movement modeling side of the project, directed by Ben DeVries. They presented the first results at the 44th Canadian Symposium on Remote Sensing in Yellowknife this past June.

“Basically, what I’m doing is developing a series of statistical models to map the current and potential environmental impacts of beaver ponds using Landsat data developed by NASA,” Wang said. “The data … captures changes in surface moisture over the past 40 years.”

Because the Arctic is already undergoing dramatic changes as a result of climate change, the challenge for researchers like Wang and DeVries is to identify what changes could be made to beavers in particular.

A beaver.  Photo courtesy of Ken Tape/A-bon
A beaver. Photo courtesy of Ken Tape/A-bon

“If you see an unexpected change, or what we sometimes refer to as a break, that break is usually associated with some kind of disruption or some kind of change,” DeVries said. “Our hypothesis is that when beavers settle in a certain area, that change is often sudden.”

DeVries and Wang hope these models will serve as useful tools for Inuvialuit communities looking to understand beaver habitat and its impacts.

Why do beavers take leashes?

Globally, researchers from Wilfrid Laurier, Anglia Ruskin and the University of Montreal are joined by community researchers and members of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation’s monitoring program for Imaryuk.

They, along with members of the hunting and fishing committees in the area, measure water flows, water channels and lake levels.

Marsh, a Wilfrid Laurier researcher, has been working in and around the Trail Valley Creek research station outside Inuvik since the 1980s. He says the change happened quickly.



“It was in the year 2004, 2005 that we started to see iibeaver, but there didn’t seem to be many of them,” Marsh said. “I didn’t pay attention to them until the FJMC came to me about three years ago and said we should start looking for beavers.

Just before Covid, I had students doing field work in the Trail Valley Creek area and sure enough, there were large numbers of beavers and beaver dams throughout that watershed.

From left: Katie Bennett (doctoral researcher, University of Montreal), Helen Wheeler, Malcolm Brockett, Calum Pearce, Ikalualuq, Joshua Teddy and Lisa Loreen (Tuktoyaktuk Hunters and Trappers Committee). Photo: Georgia Hole
Max Kotokak Jr (humanitarian researcher), George Harrison (wildlife monitor) and Helen Wheeler. Photo: Georgia Hole

Countless people are now involved in this project and an impressive amount of research projects are happening simultaneously, in the NWT and around the country, to understand the problem. Ultimately, all that work is done on behalf of the community in this area.

So what does Nakimayak, speaking on behalf of FJMC and the Inuvialuit community, hope to get out of it?

“At the end of the day, we hope this project will help us understand why beavers are taking over in such large numbers,” Nakimayak said.

“These are places that the Inuvialuit depend on for their livelihood, their way of life. We want to make sure we protect it with this investigation.”


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