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Unleashing Beaver to Restore Ecosystems and Combat the Climate Crisis

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2021

While indigenous communities, farmers, and those living close to the land have known for generations the role that beavers play in maintaining healthy ecosystems, more and more scientists have been experimenting and gathering data on just how essential these animals are. Through their actions, beaver (and humans mimicking their actions) can help restore river-based ecosystems, improve wildfire resilience, bring fish & other animals back to habitats, and fight drought.

Beaver should be our national climate action plan because connected floodplains store water, store carbon, improve water quality, improve the resilience to wildfire, and what beaver do play an enormous role in controlling the dynamics of those systems. So, yeah, it sounds really trite to give a national climate action plan to some rodents. But if we don’t do that directly, we should at least be trying to mimic what they do.

The video above provides a great overview on what we’re learning about how beavers restore ecosystems. Last month, I linked to this Sacramento Bee piece about how beavers were used to revitalize a dry California creek bed:

The creek bed, altered by decades of agricultural use, had looked like a wildfire risk. It came back to life far faster than anticipated after the beavers began building dams that retained water longer.

“It was insane, it was awesome,” said Lynnette Batt, the conservation director of the Placer Land Trust, which owns and maintains the Doty Ravine Preserve.

“It went from dry grassland… to totally revegetated, trees popping up, willows, wetland plants of all types, different meandering stream channels across about 60 acres of floodplain,” she said.

The Doty Ravine project cost about $58,000, money that went toward preparing the site for beavers to do their work.

In comparison, a traditional constructed restoration project using heavy equipment across that much land could cost $1 to $2 million, according to Batt.

See also The Beaver Manifesto and this long piece from Places Journal about beavers as environmental engineers.

Across North America and Europe, public agencies and private actors have reintroduced beavers through “re-wilding” initiatives. In California and Oregon, beavers are enhancing wetlands that are critical breeding habitat for salmonids, amphibians, and waterfowl. In Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico, environmental groups have partnered with ranchers and farmers to encourage beaver activity on small streams. Watershed advocates in California are leading a campaign to have beavers removed from the state’s non-native species list, so that they can be managed as a keystone species rather than a nuisance. And federal policy is shifting, too. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sees beavers as “partners in restoration,” and the Forest Service has supported efforts like the Methow Beaver Project, which mitigates water shortages in North Central Washington. Since 2017, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service has funded beaver initiatives through its Aquatic Restoration Program.

(via the kid should see this)