Beavers are unusual among animals in their ability to radically alter their habitat. They build dams to turn small streams and flood plains into ponds that they use to store food and hide from predators.
It turns out that this is useful for other species who like to radically alter their habitats, like humans. Let’s say you’ve got a dried out flood plain in California you want to restore in order to mitigate the effects of a drought, or even to help stop wildfires. Why not hire some beavers?
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…
“It’s huge when you think about fires in California because time is so valuable,” Fairfax said. “If you can stall the fire, if you can stop it from just ripping through the landscape, even if that beaver pond can’t actually stop the fire itself, just stalling it can give the firefighters a chance to get a hold on it.”
These lush green beaver wetlands also protect wildlife that can’t outrun a wildfire.
The weird thing is that humans have been drafting off of beavers literally as long as there have been humans and beavers, especially in North America. Humans come along, find these beautiful ponds and water sources that are perfect for commerce and agriculture, then proceed to trap and kill off the beavers that made it, either directly for their pelts or because the beavers become a nuisance for crops. (Harold Innis, who later became famous for his theories of media and communication, wrote a terrific book about this called The Fur Trade In Canada back in 1930.)
The idea that beavers might be a low-cost, low-impact way to mitigate the destruction of the environment by climate change (and other forms of human meddling) is an attractive one. But we have to be careful not to introduce beavers (or any other species) anyplace where they are unlikely to thrive, or where they’re just going to come into conflict with humans or other species, starting a cycle of destruction all over again.