Why We Need Beavers — Nature’s Carpenters and Plumbers
By Neenah Payne
Drought-Stricken Lake Mead Less Than 150 Feet From “Dead Pool” shows how dire the water situation is for the US Southwest now! Return To Nature In The COVID Era explains how profoundly beneficial wolves are for environments. This article explains that beavers are both architects and engineers who radically transform ecosystems and create habitats for fish, insects, birds, and aquatic animals. The video below says, “Beavers are ecosystem engineers second only to humans”. They help protect against droughts, floods, and wildfires and provide habitats for about 80 species including mammals, fish, and birds while cleaning rivers. Native American tribes know beavers’ role in enhancing the environment.
“Beavers play a key role in the environment. Find out the meaning of a keystone species.”
Severe Drought Makes US Southwest Uninhabitable Now
Game Over, the June 25 article by Dr. Mark Sircus, points out:
“Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, issued a stark warning. ‘If Lake Mead hits dead pool levels, it is game over for millions of people living in the Southwestern United States.’
However, there is no if about it. A Noah’s level flood would be necessary to turn things around. America’s largest reservoir is drying up fast, which could make states like Nevada, Arizona, California, and parts of Mexico no longer livable in the near future. It is less than 150 feet away from becoming a “dead pool,” meaning no more water flowing through the Hoover Dam and no more electricity or water for every Southwestern city that relies on this resource for sustenance.
Since March, Lake Mead has dropped by more than 23 feet. At this point, the water levels are declining at an increasing pace, so they probably have only one more year. Lake Mead starts wide at the top and gets narrower the deeper you go, so we can expect a sharper drop-off as each month passes. Is there a rush to leave the area to avoid their upcoming game-over scenario? I do not think so. We are mostly like dears caught in the headlights. We can hardly believe what is happening around us, which paralyzes us.”
Beavers: Nature’s Hydrologist – Part 2 explains:
“When beavers make a series of dams and ponds within a drainage basin, the water cycle in the entire watershed is affected. Wetlands act like a sponge, soaking up water during storms and releasing it slowly at drier times. The wetlands that ring a beaver colony’s dams and ponds can hold millions of gallons of water. When streams are swollen and muddy with melted spring snow, wetlands reduce flooding and erosion downstream by absorbing much of the excess flow. By providing a flexible reservoir, wetlands reduce flooding from summer storms as well….
When Europeans came to America, they trapped beavers by the millions to ship beaver pelts to European countries, especially for making hats. The beaver loss was dramatic. Since the arrival of Europeans, the beaver population of the United States has dropped from perhaps 200 million to 10 million. If each of the lost beavers had built only a single acre of wetlands, then an area of more than 300,000 square miles — a tenth of the total land area of the United States was beaver-built wetlands. Now these wetlands are gone.”
Beaver Dams Protect Against Droughts, Floods, Wildfires
The article adds:
“When the beavers were removed, their old dams slowly collapsed and the streams were released from the series of ponds and impoundments. Each watershed lost wetlands and the water that had once seeped quietly down to the aquifer now flowed to the sea — and much more rapidly. Some of the springs and freshets that had bubbled through each watershed began to dwindle, while others disappeared entirely. The water table soon dropped and wetlands disappeared. Not only was there less water in the land but the water quality changed for the worse.
Today, the beaver has returned in part, but its numbers are nothing like what they once were and we have forgotten that beaver wetlands once enlivened the now arid rangelands of the West.”
California has been devastated for decades by wildfires that drive people out of their homes and areas.
“More and more scientists are starting to ask the question: Could beavers be the ally we’ve been waiting for when it comes to saving the environment? Travel with host Joe Hanson to Central Oregon where a group of scientists set up a kind of beaver laboratory to learn more about the crepuscular creatures. We’ll also speak with a scientist who studies how beavers help to mitigate wildfire and drought.”
The video discusses the documentary “The Beaver Believers” from The Beaver Coalition. It says that about “80% of all wildlife species depend on the type of habitat that beavers create”!
Documentary: The Beaver Believers
“The Beaver Believers is an award-winning feature documentary sharing the urgent yet whimsical story of an unlikely cadre of activists — five scientists and a sassy, spicy hairdresser — who share a common vision. They’re all working to restore the North American Beaver, that most industrious, ingenious, bucktoothed engineer, to the watersheds of the American West.
The Beaver Believers encourage us to embrace a new paradigm for managing our western lands, one that seeks to partner with the natural world rather than overpower it. As a keystone species, beaver enrich their ecosystems, creating the biodiversity, complexity, and resiliency our watersheds need to absorb the impacts of climate change. Beavers can show us the way and do much of the work for us, if only we can find the humility to trust the restorative power of nature and our own ability to play a positive role within it.”
The video below explains that streams with beavers have nine times the water.
“Beavers are returning to California streams they haven’t inhabited since the Gold Rush. By 1850 Beavers were almost driven to extinction in California. They save thousands of Gallons of water, curb erosion, and improve ecosystem diversity, yet nearly 4,000 Beavers are killed in the state each year. California needs to do better by its beavers and encourage their inhabitance of historic streams.”
The video below shows that beavers had been rebuilding a dam in California for a thousand years from 850 AD until 1,850 AD when they were wiped out there during the Gold Rush.
Beavers: Nature’s Hydrologists
“Beavers do more to shape their landscape than any other mammal except for human beings. Their ancestors were building dams 10 million years ago. Until European colonization of the New World, the North American beaver was one of the most successful mammals on the continent. They lived everywhere from the arctic tundra to the deserts of northern Mexico.
Along thousands of streams lived colony after colony, dam after dam of beavers in close succession. There were as many as 300 dams per square mile — each with its own ring of wetlands. It is estimated that as many as 200 million beavers once lived in the continental United States! Today the current North American beaver population is estimated to be between 10 and 15 million individuals.
Beavers made dams that created meadows out of forest, their wetlands slowly capturing silt. The result of the beaver’s engineering was a remarkably uniform buildup of organic material in the valleys, a checkerboard of meadows through woodlands, and a great deal of edge — that fruitful zone of where natural communities meet. Beavers are a ‘keystone species’. Where beavers build dams, wetlands spread out behind them providing home and food for dozens of species from migrating duck to moose, from fish to frogs to great blue herons.
The beaver is North America’s largest rodent and is built for life in the water. Adults can be up to four feet long and weigh over 60 pounds. The beaver has webbed hind feet and a large, flat, nearly hairless tail. It uses its tail to help maintain its balance when it is gnawing on trees. It will also slap its tail against the water to signal danger or to warn away predators. The beaver has short front legs with heavy claws. Their rear legs are longer, and they use their rear webbed feet help propel themselves through the water. When the beaver is under water, its nose and ears close up and a special membrane covers its eyes.”
“A worldwide movement to introduce beavers to restore ecosystems is underway.”
“A whole host of different mammals appear to benefit from having beavers in the area. In forests where beavers have been introduced in Finland, their presence is linked to increased activity of several species, including moose, otters, and weasels. Beavers are described as “ecosystem engineers” because their dam-building work has such a huge effect on habitats. Both the Eurasian beaver and the American beaver were almost driven extinct by hunting in the early 20th century, but they have since recovered in North America.”
“These wetland engineers support biodiversity, defend the landscape from fire and drought, and even promote carbon sequestration.
Beavers are easily underestimated.…Their plump, round bodies belie a tenacious work ethic that leads to the creation of wetlands and healthy riverine habitat that benefit diverse plant and animal life.
The talents of humble beavers also include fighting wildfire, drought, and climate change. As we seek out “natural climate solutions” that tap into the power of nature to help mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, it’s time we recognize beavers as curators of biodiversity, protectors of water, and climate allies.
Before the European colonization of North America, there were likely hundreds of millions of beavers. Many Indigenous communities revered them as keepers of water and some had strict policies against killing beavers. But the value of beaver pelts and oil—as fashionable fur hats and perfumes in Europe—lured trappers across the continent and beavers were nearly eliminated from the landscape as a result of heavy exploitation.
In the process, our waterscapes became less complex, less resilient, and less able to support diverse plant, animal, and human life.
Maggie Creek, a tributary to the Humboldt River in Nevada, before (top, 1980) and after (bottom, 2011) the enactment of cattle grazing agreements and reintroduction of beavers to the area. – Elko District/Bureau of Land Management
In today’s drying landscapes, climate-exacerbated hazards like wildfire and drought are ravaging the West—making the region less hospitable to people and animals. Western wetlands have been reduced to just two percent of the land surface, while supporting around 80 percent of the area’s biodiversity. In the search for solutions, beavers are gaining a reputation as inexpensive firefighters and water storage engineers. Beavers’ dam-building capabilities can replenish a dry floodplain, similar to how a sponge soaks up water.
Recent research has shown how beaver ponds support wet soils and green vegetation–even during periods of drought—that are less likely to burn during a wildfire and more capable of bouncing back afterward. Beaver-created wetlands and riparian areas can also provide refuge for animals to escape to during a fire. Given that wildfires make up 5 to 10 percent of annual global CO2 emissions each year, the lush, wet fire breaks created by beavers could also be considered for their potential to impact wildfire spread and emissions, but only if we make space for beavers to thrive across the landscape.
In addition to their wildfire- and drought-mitigating capabilities, beaver-created wetlands and riparian areas promote ideal conditions for soils to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide—a major driver of climate change. Although wetlands hold an outstanding amount of carbon—storing 20 percent to 30 percent of the global soil carbon—they have been reduced to less than 8 percent of the earth’s land surface today.
One recent review paper explored the relationship between beaver activity and carbon sequestration in the Northern Hemisphere and estimated that current beaver-created wetlands may be worth up to $75 million per year in greenhouse gas sequestration (depending on a variety of environmental factors). Other researchers have estimated that beaver ponds across the planet store up to 470,000 tons of carbon a year. There is much we have yet to understand about the net effect of beavers on carbon storage, but there is good reason to believe that the widespread restoration of beavers to the landscapes where they once thrived may have a beneficial impact on the global climate.
Despite the great potential of beavers to benefit human, plant, and animal life, relentless trapping still kills an untold number of beavers each year—in the tens or hundreds of thousands. Too often, beavers are considered a nuisance or a resource to be exploited, with no consideration of the collateral damage that widespread beaver trapping poses to water storage, hazard mitigation, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity.
Because beavers create and maintain critical wet habitats, many other animals, such as salmon, moose, songbirds, and amphibians, are impacted by their presence—or absence. With all that we’re learning about the diverse benefits of beavers, it’s clear we need to start working with—rather than against—these stewards of healthy waterways.
When we protect natural places and conserve the wildlife that makes them function, we protect the very life support systems we depend on. In order to build a safer and healthier future, governments must take bold action to defend intact, functioning ecosystems and protect at least 30 percent of our lands, freshwater systems, and oceans by 2030. This goal is about so much more than climate change mitigation—it’s about forging a new, more mutually beneficial partnership with nature. The eager beaver is ready to get to work when we are.”
“In addition to creating their own lake, this family of beavers construct a make-shift fridge and winter-time snug.”
Beavers prefer to dam streams in shallow valleys, turning much of the flooded area into wetlands (almost half of endangered and threatened species in North America rely on wetlands)…. Native Americans called the beaver the “sacred center” of the land because they create rich habitats for other animals (mammals, fish, turtles, frogs, birds and ducks). They also used the same word to mean “beaver-like” and “affable.”