How the heck are beaver lodges getting satellite dishes?

satellite dish and canadian flag resting on top of a beaver lodge Photo by Grant Carlson

The perennial debate of whether you should have TV service at the cottage will probably never be answered. But it’s time for another debate: should beavers have TV service too? In the last few years, people across Canada have been spotting beaver lodges topped with satellite dishes in cottage country, leading many to wonder exactly how—and why—they got there. In the case of Thunder Bay, Ontario, it turns out that Grant Carlson is the guy responsible. In May, wanting to vanquish some pandemic blues, he clambered into his kayak with hip waders and an old satellite dish and paddled out to a long-established beaver lodge near Onion Lake Road, north of Thunder Bay. “A friend of mine suggested it, and I just took off on that idea,” he says. “My dad was a real jokester, and I think I get a lot of that from him.” Carlson adds that since everyone was staying in, slowing down, and watching a lot of TV, he thought the beavers should have the opportunity too. “I’m proud of my Canadian heritage, and I love where we live so I just thought it was kind of fitting.” (He was going to add a Canada flag too, but forgot to bring it.) No one knew that Carlson was responsible for the prank until August, when the local CBC Radio launched a tongue-in-cheek investigation on social media, and he ‘fessed up.

While Carlson wasn’t aware of it, other beaver lodges have been decorated with dishes and the occasional Canadian flag too, pretty much right across Canada. And according to one beaver lodge expert, it may be a uniquely Canuck prank. “I haven’t seen anything like that in the U.S. It feels like a Canadian thing,” says Emily Fairfax, an assistant professor at California State University Channel Islands, who studies the positive effects of beaver dams and lodges on ecosystems.

So, is it actually ok to add something non-natural to a beaver lodge? “It’s not an issue in that it’s going to break the lodge or anything like that,” says Dr. Fairfax. “If there is an issue, it would be that it is where the beavers are usually sleeping during the day. So they’re probably in there, and you don’t want to disturb wildlife, so not being super loud and disruptive as you approach a beaver lodge is always good wilderness ethics. I laughed, this image was funny, but we probably shouldn’t make a habit of altering animal dens and houses.”

Dr. Fairfax says that she’s encountered plenty of bizarre items that beavers themselves have added to their homes. “I’ve seen traffic cones that I assume were floating downstream, and the beaver saw it and thought ‘this is a weird log, but I’ll use it.’ I’ve seen a lot of shoes, especially sandals, in rivers that people like to swim and play in. I don’t think the beavers go steal the shoes; I think again, they float downstream and then the beavers make use of it once it’s there. And I saw a flashlight built into a dam once.” She says her colleague Dr. Sarah Ledford at Georgia State University focusses on urban beaver builds. “She’s seen even weirder stuff: a really creepy baby doll, just horrifying nightmare fuel. She’s seen basketballs on top of their lodges. Again, it probably floated over and the beavers saw it and thought, ‘all right, this is going on top.’”

And what if beavers want to bootleg a few episodes of Schitt’s Creek or catch a hockey game? Dr. Fairfax says it’s not entirely far-fetched. “We know they’re good engineers. I guess they could also be good satellite installers as well.”

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