By Joshua Smith
The wildlife research position funded through Voyageurs National Park Association allowed me to spend time in Voyageurs National Park and the surrounding area. Hiking and cross-country skiing around the park gave me a greater appreciation for the landscape and natural resources that VNPA has played a crucial role in preserving for future generations. I spent a weekend in October working with Dr. Steve Windels and others, checking beaver traps and scouting for active lodges, while observing for signs of wildlife including marten, wolf, and lynx. It was early October, so the leaves had just begun to change and presented a phenomenal backdrop as we journeyed around the lake. As part of our successful trip, we captured three beavers, saw mound and bank-type lodges, hiked around one of the islands, and experienced some of the logistical challenges associated with long-term research projects.
Prior to this position, my knowledge of beaver ecology was skewed by my perceived knowledge. Getting into the field provided clarity in context as I began working with several datasets associated with beaver population dynamics in the park. Through the project, we sought to address how changes in the 2000 rule curves for water level management regimes impact various aspects of beaver ecology. To date, we have found that water level is an important factor in lodge site selection at multiple spatial scales, and these effects are influenced by basins (e.g., Rainy versus Namakan Reservoirs) where flow regimes tend to differ. Next we intend to investigate similar effects on age- and sex-specific survival, productivity, and body condition.
We have also looked at the effects of equipping transmitters to beavers to study survival and movement patterns. Comparisons of survival, changes in body condition, and reproductive output of transmitter-equipped beavers to beavers equipped only with ear-tags showed no significant difference. Our goal is that this analysis will assist others in implementing best practices when tagging other semi-aquatic species.
I would like to thank VNPA and its supporters for funding this position. I enjoyed my time working on the project because endeavors such as this fill a much needed void in research. With fiscal deficits and government shut-downs, our natural resources and the agencies charged with protecting them take significant budgetary cuts. Research projects such as this and partnership support go a long way in the promotion and protection of the resources of Voyageurs National Park.