Saturday, January 30, 2010

Canadian Beavers at the End of the World

Canadian beavers at the end of the world?  I guess the south latitude here is equivalent to the northern one in Canada where they live, but, alas, the grand plansfor a fur trade on Terra del Fuego didn’t work out.

Ushaia, pronounced you-sh-why-ah, is in Argentine Patagonia. There is a populated place a little further south, but its population is smaller than Ushaia’s  70,000, so while it might be the most southern town in the world, Ushaia lays claim to being the most southern city.

Back during the days of the Canadian fur trade, someone thought that bringing beavers here from Canada would provide a welcome new source of income for this part of Argentinian Patagonia.  Unfortunately, the winters here are not nearly as cold as are those in Canada.  The temperatures here vary from minus 5 in the city to maybe minus 20 in the mountains.  The beavers did what life forms everywhere do.  Instead of putting resources into growing thick long fur, they produced shorter fur which, while it is silkier than that of our beavers, is thin and so was not much in demand in the fur market.  The energy they saved from growing thick fur went into dam construction and having fun swimming.

Like many introduced species, the beavers did very well , to the detriment of the local environment.  They produce eight young a year, and there are no predators, no wolves, coyotes, or bears.  Just people, and while the Chilean government pays a $50 bounty for a dead beaver, Argentina’s government pays only $20.

The beavers spend their time building dams.  That’s what you do if you’re a beaver, chew trees to keep your teeth from growing too long, and using said trees to build things.  They don’t need to build the elaborate lodges used in the colder Canadian climate.  I have never seen such large dams as the ones I passed while hiking in a valley surrounded by mountains.

  The dams cause flooding which, while the water is appreciated by some bird species, kills trees.

In the larger scheme of things, though, that isn’t too bad.  Most introduced species wreak far worse havoc on their new homes.  I guess the beavers, being Canadian, realized they had to be polite and not push themselves on the world the way, say, an American species would if brought hereIt’s sad to realize, though, that our national animal, the beaver, is such a poor ambassador.  At least it’s not as hated as is the Canada goose, known and reviled for producing way too much fertilizer in places where it’s not needed.

The hike was lovely, and we walked through many different terrains.  Everyone was given a pair of rubber boots to wear, which was a good thing, as the peat bog we passed through was very boggy.
I was the first to fall, caused when my boot decided to stay in the mud while the rest of me kept moving forward.  I was holding my camera and had the presence of mind to hold it up as I went down.  I kept it dry and the fall was harmless, as mud makes for a soft landing.

Fast-flowing streams, springy moss tufts that were foot-sized islands in a sea of brownish water, and boot-sucking mud made the walk an adventure.  We also went through a lovely forest, and scrambled down rock shelves.

Ushaia reminds me of Whitehorse and towns in Alaska.  There's an energy here, a can-do optimism.  Young people, and talented artisans abound.  It's a place where things are happening and are going to happen.  I'd love to return, to see what the results are.

These are orchids, the only ones I've seen that grow in a harsh, non-tropical environment.  They symbolize the people here, the way a harsh environment can produce great beauty.


No comments:

Post a Comment