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Beavers
Credit: Jillian / Adobe Stock

Beavers

Call to action:

Return beavers to their natural habitats in ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers in order to restore and maintain ecosystem health.

A rodent native to North America and Eurasia, beavers are a keystone species whose activities support thousands of plant, animal, and fish species and provide ecosystem services for humans. Their dams slow the flow of water and provide protection against floods. Their ponds are nurseries for amphibians and fish. Beavers create and expand wetlands, home to diverse wildlife. Microbes in ponds remove pollutants. Atmospheric carbon is sequestered in captured sediment. Beavers were hunted nearly to extinction by humans, causing major environmental damage, including more frequent flooding, smaller wetlands, diminished water quality, and less resilience to drought. This damage is being repaired by reintroducing beavers to former habitats. Although some landowners consider beavers to be a pest, coexistence is practical and mutually beneficial.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn why beaver populations were decimated and why their restoration is vital to ecosystem health on which humans and wildlife depend. Once widespread, the Eurasian beaver population was reduced to twelve hundred animals at the start of the twentieth century. In North America, between 100 and 400 million beavers existed prior to European colonization and could be found in nearly every watershed. Today, only 10 to 15 million beavers remain. Beavers were hunted for their water-resistant fur, used for hats and clothing, and their castoreum, used in medicine and perfume. Their dams and ponds were eliminated to create farmland. Ecosystem engineers, beavers build dams almost anyplace where water can be impounded, wood is available, and habitat can be improved (from their perspective). Ponds protect beaver lodges from predators. Some landowners object to beavers, incorrectly thinking the dams interfere with water supplies. Some consider beavers a nuisance for blocking waterways and culverts, and for cutting down trees. Despite viable alternatives, trapping or killing is often the only remedy employed, eliminating the ecological benefits that beavers provide. These benefits include:

Join an organization, support a campaign, and/or participate in an activity that protects or restores beaver populations and their habitat. Although regulation and management of beavers is usually controlled by wildlife agencies within federal, state, and local governments (see Governance), there are many organizations that work on behalf of beavers and their habitat. Work includes research, advocacy, surveys, beaver relocation projects, education, and other volunteer, community-based initiatives (see Key Players). Eurasian beaver populations have recovered dramatically as a result of reintroduction efforts by many people and is now estimated to number more than one million animals.

Speak up. Write an op-ed to a newspaper or social media site advocating for beavers, particularly the need to protect and restore their habitat. Destructive human activity needs to be highlighted. Here is an op-ed from Oregon protesting federal policy that allows beaver killing. Here is an op-ed in The New York Times linking beavers to the reintroduction of the gray wolf as an example of the role keystone species play in restoring ecosystem health. Here is an op-ed from the UK advocating for the reintroduction of beavers.

  • The Beaver Institute provides an extensive library of articles, videos, and web links that can help with research and writing.

Join a social media site run by an advocate for beavers. Here is a sampling of social media sites (see Key Players below):

Groups

Farmers, Ranchers, and Private Landowners

Learn why beavers can be beneficial to your land and explore ways to coexist with them. Conflicts with beavers are real and have consequences. Their dams can flood crop fields, roads, and irrigation canals. Beavers cut down trees and damage human-made landscaping. However, removing beavers is not very effective since they will likely be replaced by new beavers. Conflicts can be mitigated. Landowners are learning that the benefits of beavers are significant. Dams keep water on the land longer, which is useful in a drought. Beavers are wetland carbon engineers, useful in an era of climate change, when there is greater variability in weather extremes. Beavers increase the land’s ecological resilience to unanticipated changes. Strategies and resources to mitigate the negative impact of beavers include:

Work with agencies and others to restore beaver populations if you own appropriate habitat. Research demonstrates that beavers can help achieve restoration project success.

  • Start a pond with a Beaver Dam Analogue (BDA), often a series of vertical posts placed in a stream, interwoven with branches and packed with mud. The pooled water entices beavers to move in, build lodges, and increase the size of the dam. Here is an example from a ranch in California.
  • Consult with a beaver expert. There are private companies, such as Ecotone, and individuals, such as Skip Lisle, that provide a variety of beaver coexistence services. Many state game and wildlife departments have beaver experts or can point you toward one.
  • Consider the tourism potential of having beavers on your land. Many countries in Europe have now reintroduced beavers, driven in part by the affection that people feel for the rodent. In the Knapdale area of Scotland, one local hotelier has reported that 20 percent of his guests were there because of the reintroduced beavers.
  • The Beaver Restoration Guidebook, produced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and three other federal agencies, provides a practical, science-based approach for using beavers to improve ecosystem functions.
  • Join a collaborative restoration effort or a watershed group. There are regional, multistakeholder groups in the U.S. and UK involved in restoration activities and environmental conflict resolution that could help beavers. For example, the Clark Fork Coalition in Montana has a Beaver Conflict Resolution program. Groups include the Western Landowners Alliance, Sustainable Northwest, the Quivira Coalition, and the Sage Grouse Initiative. There are localized groups, including the Salmon Falls watershed collaborative in New Hampshire and the Blackfoot Challenge in Montana.

City and County/State/Federal Land Managers

Stop the loss of beaver habitat in cities and on county, state, and federal land and restore beaver populations. Many of the challenges and conflicts that involve beavers fall under the jurisdiction of government agencies. One example is the maintenance and protection of public roads, which are deteriorating as a result of more frequent and intense storm events resulting from climate change. The presence of beavers can complicate things. They can challenge flood management options as well. New thinking and investment in infrastructure are required. Options include:

  • Replace small culverts with a larger and wider ones that would allow debris from bigger storm events to pass through, as well as be less attractive to beavers.
  • Install a Beaver Deceiver, a nonlethal flow device that prevents culverts and other structures from becoming dam sites for beavers. Here is a Beaver Deceiver lecture by its inventor, Skip Lisle. Here is an example from Vancouver, B.C., involving the airport.
  • Consider the positive role beaver dams and ponds can make in aquifer recharge and incorporate them into land-use planning.
  • Beaver Solutions offers Beaver Management Plans and consulting for towns, agencies, and utilities.
  • The Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool (BRAT) is a regional planning tool to assess the potential of beavers as an ecological restoration agent.
  • The Fur Bearers, a Canadian nonprofit, publishes numerous options in Beavers: Coexistence Strategies for Municipalities and Landowners.
  • The Beaver Institute has started a biennial conference called BeaverCon that brings together restoration professionals, engineers, ecologists, land managers, and infrastructure specialists to learn what works.

Scientists and Researchers

Expand research on beavers. Areas of investigation include resolving conflicts over beaver reintroduction efforts, understanding public perceptions, exploring new roles for beaver restoration, and developing long-term management strategies:

  • Understanding the social dimensions of beaver reintroduction is critical to developing effective management strategies that gain public support and reduce conflicts.
  • There are few studies focused on what happens to beavers after they are translocated to a new area, making it difficult to determine best practices. This study focused on beaver relocations in the Coast Range of Oregon.
  • Effects of beaver activity in landscapes that are sensitive to climate change need to be expanded. Here is a research article about the impacts new beaver dams are having on the tundra ecosystem of the Arctic as temperatures warm.
  • More research is needed to understand the role beaver dams and ponds can play in the removal of agricultural chemicals and other pollutants from streams and lakes. Here is a study from England.
  • What role can beavers play in urban and suburban areas? Here and here are articles focused on the positive role beavers can have in urban stormwater management.

Companies

Support enterprises that protect, maintain, and restore beaver populations, particularly those involved in agriculture. Companies should support organic products and regenerative agricultural practices that improve soil health, protect ecosystems, and reverse land degradation (see Degraded Land Restoration Nexus and Regenerative Agriculture Nexus).

Governance

Governments must implement policies that are beaver-friendly. These include policies that enforce the humane treatment of beavers if trapping and removal are required. Examples include:

Learn

Listen

Interviews with Daniel Goldfarb, author of Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, here and here.

Become a Beaver Believer / Defender Radio episode

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