We decided to dust off and update this innovative solution to restoring habitats with the most industrious aquatic mammal: beavers.
At The Optimist Daily, we’ve written a great deal about the benefits beavers bring to their environment and the importance of restoring their populations in certain areas. Beavers are often vilified in certain communities for the same reason they’re such iconic North American creatures: they have an unparalleled ability to change their environment. Perhaps the only other mammals with that kind of impact are humans.
These river-dwelling rodents can excavate thousands of cubic meters of soil per year to pack onto their dams. They fell trees and dig canals, and in doing so they often come into conflict with humans.
Infamous ecosystem engineers
Perhaps nowhere else do these cheeky critters stir up more trouble than in Canada. Beavers stole fence posts in Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan to build their dams. They chewed through internet cables in British Columbia depriving a whole town of internet access, and 200 beaver dams on nearby waterways put 11 square miles of the Quebec town of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge. This obviously upset the town, which called for the 800 nearby beavers to be eradicated.
While these communities’ outrage is understandable, experts maintain that beavers do far more good than harm.
“Beavers just have such a tremendous influence on everything around them,” said Glynnis Hood, a professor of environmental science at the University of Alberta who has long studied beavers and their effects on water systems.
The environmental benefits of beavers
Beavers have a hugely beneficial effect on their ecosystems. Their dams help to restore vital wetlands, replenish groundwater, and filter out sediments, nitrogen, and phosphorus from water to create habitable areas for other species like fish and frogs.
Their industriousness and wide-spanning effects make beavers a keystone species. That’s why many organizations have decided to use them to replenish certain ecosystems.
Working together with beavers to fight climate change
Regeneration is an organization addressing climate change and paying attention to the revitalization of water systems by returning beavers to their natural habitats of ponds, lakes, and waterways. The Watershed Management Group, based in Tucson, Arizona, aims to improve desert ecosystems with a focus in Arizona. They’ve advocated for the return of beavers to local watershed areas in Arizona, such as the Santa Cruz and the San Pedro rivers. In the Fall of 2021, they launched their first binational survey to examine the past and future benefits of beavers in these water systems.
Experts and organizations are advocating for greater cooperation with beavers, enabling their animal agency for our benefit, theirs, and our ecosystems. “There’s too much weight sometimes put on the beavers, but they’re really just reacting to how we change environments,” said Hood. “Where we place our development matters. And how we envision nature interacting with our built structures also has to come into play when we design them.”
Beavers rewilding Britain
Five years ago, a debate roiled between British rewilders over whether or not to reintroduce beavers back into their ecosystems. Now, hundreds if not thousands of beavers are swimming, building, and rewilding in rivers and wetlands throughout Britain. And more and more landowners are taking part in the initiative.
Rewilding Britain is a nonprofit that has been growing over the last few years with an increased interest and big investments. Its initiatives have turned formerly unprofitable land into areas fertile for rewilding, new carbon credits, boosting a “biodiversity net gain,” and reintroducing valuable nutrients into British rivers.
These efforts not only brought an influx of beavers back to the land but also a 54 percent increase in jobs for rewilding. For example, the Trees for Life project turned a former shooting range in Scotland, staffed by one person, into a rewilding program that employs 15 people and operates multiple education centers.
This story was originally published on March 19, 2022.