I learned something interesting about the Beaver of all things. Once the backbone of Canadian fur trading, this rather large rodent may adorn our nickel, yet is considered nothing more than a nuisance. Their fur of little value in a world of synthetic fabric draped political correctness, the Beaver inhabit a realm known as pest. In parts of Canada like Porcupine Plains, Saskatchewan they even have a bounty on their seemingly worthless hides.
Not so fast people. According to David Suzuki they could be the most important animal on our planet. It seems their relentless dam building serves a special purpose. By creating ponds, they trap water destined to evaporate from small streams. By building dams they make deep ponds out of trickles the summer sun would have turned to dry creek beds.
Dr Glynnis Hood studied the impact of beavers on water levels in a given landscape. Elk Island National Park near Edmonton, Alberta had seen every last beaver trapped by the late 1800’s. In the 1940’s seven beavers were introduced and park rangers kept meticulous records of their activity. Looking at park records, Hood noticed a dramatic increase in water levels once these beavers got busy.
A fish hatchery in Methow, Washington is using the beaver to restore pools of late season water to areas where salmon stocks are dwindling. In Montana cattle country, conservationists introduced beaver to what had become dry valleys by late summer. Limiting livestock access, and letting the beaver do their thing; remarkably these bone dry valleys became lush and green the following year.
Pondering the beaver I can’t help but think of the greatest man made disaster in North America. The “dust bowl” of the 1930’s was the result of poor farming practices; stripping indigenous grasses from the great plains removed nature’s perfect defense in times of drought. Protective layer gone, complete with five foot deep root systems; the top soil simply blew away.
It worries me to watch arrogance grow, believing we control our environment. Anything getting in the way of progress is eradicated with nary a thought. It makes me crazy to think this might come across as preachy, there just isn’t any other way to put it. All of us need to ponder the “balance of nature”. Today’s nuisance beaver might one day be our saving grace; in times of drought – find a beaver.