Got drought? Bring in the beavers.

Beaver atop a dam. Photo: Marcin Klapczynski, CC some rights reserved

Beavers. Where to start?

Yes, beavers are the animal that made Canada important thanks to the fur trade. The beaver remains a national symbol.

The critter was hailed in a popular beer ad /nationalistic rant from 2000 as a  ”truly proud and noble animal

The word also become problematic slang - forcing a respected history magazine to change its name so children could search for it on line without stumbling into awkward territory.

Beavers are what many landowners and road crews curse as they deal with felled trees and unwanted dams.

With help from satellite imagery, researchers think they have identified the world’s largest beaver dam in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta. (An estimated 2,800 feet long in 2010, it is assumed to be the work of several generations of beavers over the last 40 years.)

Beavers are known for their ingenious, determined work ethic. They mate for life and are attentive parents. Watching them in the wild is a nice bonus for hikers and campers.

Beavers are all that and more. In fact, they are what ecologists call a keystone species.

Hunted to extinction in Great Britain, this BBC article describes how some beavers are being reestablished in Scotland.

Now a December article in Canadian Geographic by Frances Backhouse,”Rethinking the Beaver“, considers how beavers affect wetlands and watersheds with an eye on how that could be a plus in dealing with heightened risk of drought.

The material presented isn’t especially new. But if cycles of drought and flood become more regular spectres it’s worth looking at ways to mitigate those impacts.

Ironically, having done so much to prevent flooding in the Netherlands through human engineering, officials there are concerned that a growing beaver population there could threaten their dykes.

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11 Responses to “Got drought? Bring in the beavers.”

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  1. Ken Hall says:

    I was telling my brother the NYC lawyer, who grew up in the North Country with me, about the beaver pond behind my house, on an old dairy farm, and that I was confounded by their persistence because they had consumed most if not all of the food in/around the lake/pond behind their dams. His response was “how do you know the have eaten all of the fish in your pond”. How does that old joke about lawyers go, ” what do you call a thousand lawyers at the bottom of a lake”?

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  2. Ken Hall says:

    Correction “the have eaten” should obviously be “they have eaten”

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  3. Ken Hall says:

    “A good start”

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  4. Michael Greer says:

    Thirty years ago, the beavers invaded my place and flooded a creek and lovely woods. I decided to fight them, but after repeated attempts, the trees began to fail and I gave in…let it go, see what happens. It turned out to be the right decision as it dramatically increased the diversity of my hundred acre spread. Soon we had a billion frogs of three or four new types, two or three fish that hadn’t been a part of the little woodland creek. hawks, osprey, herons and geese. The noise from that pond went on 24 hours a day, and after a while we became able to tell time, season, and weather, just by listening.
    The pond was interesting in winter too. We cut firewood for the first few years, skated on certain lucky years and just enjoyed a flat and totally open bit of terrain on our snowshoes for many winters.
    The beavers lasted for about fifteen years, and slowly moved upstream to repeat their process in the next two or three ponds, but the whole process isn’t over yet. Most of the water has drained over the last five years, and the grasses have slowly filled in. Soon the shrubs and bushes will creep forward and eventually the trees will cover the area. I’ll be long gone before the forest returns to what I remember thirty years ago…a span of probably a hundred years…a process repeated over and over since the last ice age…except for that brief period in the 20th century, when we almost wiped them out.
    This earth will heal itself if it could only get rid of these pesky people.

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  5. jeff says:

    I read a book written about a fellow in the eastern Canadian Rockies who with government permission set about re-establishing beaver populations back in the pre-WWII era. The purpose was to slow mountain water run-off which otherwise permitted quick spring dry-out and parched farmland in the summer. Over the course of 40 years his efforts were successful.

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  6. mervel says:

    They are fascinating. I think it would be very interesting to look at how they can really help with a variety of problems we will face environmentally in the future, from creating and holding onto wetlands to flood control.

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  7. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Jeff, I think that was “3 against the wilderness” or something like that. Good read.

    The problem with beaver is that they build where they want to, not where we want them to. And they eat what they want, not what we want them to. It’s wonderful when they dam a seepage and create a wetland. It’s not so great when that spot happens to flood your hay field or leech field or is next to your sugarbush which they proceed to eat or when they decide your apple trees are tasty. Beaver are not the save all for water issues. And, when they move on you aren’t left with a pond. You’re left with a mud hole covering acres, woods you can hardly get through, hung trees waiting to fall on someone and a dam that will last for decades. So, there is good and bad to beaver. Just remember that.

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  8. Two Cents says:

    Beavers and Illegal Alien workers, the saviours of the North Country…………

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  9. jeff says:

    Thanks Arlo, you’re right. This website has a referal to an update interview by the son of the Eric Collier man who was the key to the effort and the son was involved before and a little bit after the Korean war. The book was published in 1959 and the interview with the son was 2006.

    http://ericcollier.wordpress.com/

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  10. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Don’t forget casinos 2 cents. Nothing like a casino to drive an economy…

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  11. Two Cents says:

    :)

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