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Posts Tagged ‘beaver’

Photo: Svetozar Cenisev/ Unsplash.
When vegetation that beavers flood is dying, neighbors object to the smell. But often they like the lake that comes later.

There was a woman in my town who was up in arms about beavers flooding part of her property to build a dam. That is, she was angry until the odor of dying grasses dissipated and a beautiful lake appeared.

According to Catrin Einhorn at the New York Times, farmers out West are finding other reasons to appreciate the work of beavers.

She reports, “Horace Smith blew up a lot of beaver dams in his life. A rancher here in northeastern Nevada, he waged war against the animals, frequently with dynamite. Not from meanness or cruelty; it was a struggle over water. Mr. Smith blamed beavers for flooding some parts of his property, Cottonwood Ranch, and drying out others.

“But his son Agee, who eventually took over the ranch, is making peace. And he says welcoming beavers to work on the land is one of the best things he’s done.

“ ‘They’re very controversial still,’ said Mr. Smith, whose father died in 2014. ‘But it’s getting better. People are starting to wake up.’

“As global warming intensifies droughts, floods and wildfires, Mr. Smith has become one of a growing number of ranchers, scientists and other ‘beaver believers’ who see the creatures not only as helpers, but as furry weapons of climate resilience.

Last year, when Nevada suffered one of the worst droughts on record, beaver pools kept his cattle with enough water.

“When rains came strangely hard and fast, the vast network of dams slowed a torrent of water raging down the mountain, protecting his hay crop. And with the beavers’ help, creeks have widened into wetlands that run through the sagebrush desert, cleaning water, birthing new meadows and creating a buffer against wildfires.

“True, beavers can be complicated partners. They’re wild, swimming rodents the size of basset hounds with an obsession for building dams. When conflicts arise, and they probably will, you can’t talk it out.

“Beavers flood roads, fields, timber forests and other areas that people want dry. They fell trees without a thought as to whether humans would prefer them standing. In response to complaints, the federal government killed almost 25,000 beavers last year.

“But beavers also store lots of water for free, which is increasingly crucial in the parched West. And they don’t just help with drought. Their engineering subdues torrential floods from heavy rains or snowmelt by slowing water. It reduces erosion and recharges groundwater. And the wetlands beavers create may have the extra benefit of stashing carbon out of the atmosphere.

“In addition to all that, the rodents do environmental double duty, because they also tackle another crisis unleashed by humans: rampant biodiversity loss. Their wetlands are increasingly recognized for creating habitat for myriad species, from salmon to sage grouse.

“Beavers, you might say, are having a moment. In Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management is working with partners to build beaver-like dams that they hope real beavers will claim and expand. In California, the new state budget designates about $1.5 million a year to restoring the animals for climate resiliency and biodiversity benefits.

“ ‘We need to get beavers back to work,’ Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary of natural resources, said in a webinar this year. ‘Full employment for beavers.’ (Beaver believers like to note that the animals work for free.) …

“Instead of killing beavers, the federal government should be embracing them as an important component of federal climate adaptation, according to two scientists who study beavers and hydrology, Chris Jordan of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, and Emily Fairfax of California State University Channel Islands.

“ ‘It may seem trite to say that beavers are a key part of a national climate action plan, but the reality is that they are a force of 15-40 million highly skilled environmental engineers,’ Dr. Jordan and Dr. Fairfax wrote this year in a perspective article in the research journal WIREs Water. …

“When human-beaver conflicts arise, they can be addressed without killing the animals, experts say. Paint and fencing can protect trees from gnawing. Systems like the Beaver Deceiver secretly undo their handiwork with pipes that drain water from beaver settlements even when the animals keep building. Such measures are actually a more effective solution than removing the animals, according to advocates, because new beavers tend to move into empty habitat.

“If coexistence is impossible, a growing number of groups and private businesses are seeking to relocate, rather than kill, nuisance beavers.

“ ‘We put the nuisance in air quotes,’ said Molly Alves, a wildlife biologist with the Tulalip Tribes, a federally recognized tribal organization just north of Seattle that moves unwanted beavers to land managed by the United States Forest Service.

“The group’s impetus was a desire to expand the extraordinary habitat that beavers offer salmon, a culturally and economically important species. When they started in 2014, the Tulalip Tribes had to invoke their sovereign treaty rights to relocate beavers because doing so was illegal in their area under Washington State law. After a lobbying push, beaver relocation is now legal statewide and the tribes are advising state officials on a program to train others in best practices.”

More at the Times, here. Hat tip: John.

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Back in the day, I was a great fan of Mary Renault. I took her every word as gospel, down to the conversations Theseus had with Ariadne, because the stories generally meshed with what I knew from studying ancient Greek.

The Bull from the Sea was about the sea god Poseidon, who also is the god of earthquakes. I remember Renault’s description of the eerie stillness in the air before an earthquake and the strange behavior of the creatures.

So I am not at all surprised to read in the Washington Post that animals at the National Zoo knew before this week’s earthquake actually quaked that something was about to happen.

“The zoo documented a broad range of animal behavior before, during and after the tremor … . For example, a gorilla, Mandara, shrieked and grabbed her baby, Kibibi, racing to the top of a climbing structure just seconds before the ground began to shake dramatically. Two other apes — an orangutan, Kyle, and a gorilla, Kojo — already had dropped their food and skedaddled to higher turf. The 64 flamingos seemed to sense the tumult a number of seconds in advance as well, clustering together in a nervous huddle before the quake hit. One of the zoo’s elephants made a low-pitched noise as if to communicate with two other elephants. And red-ruffed lemurs emitted an alarm cry a full 15 minutes before the temblor, the zoo said.

“During the quake, the zoo grounds were filled with howls and cries. The snakes, normally inert in the middle of the day, writhed and slithered. Beavers stood on their hind legs and then jumped into a pond. Murphy the Komodo dragon ran for cover. Lions resting outside suddenly stood up and stared at their building as the walls shook. Damai, a Sumatran tiger, leaped as if startled but quickly settled down. Some animals remained agitated for the rest of the day, wouldn’t eat and didn’t go to sleep on their usual schedule.” Read the full story.

And while we’re on the subject, please read about 96 percent of a certain kind of male toad abandoning their breeding ground five days before the 2009 L’Aquila, Italy, earthquake! (That lead came via Andrew Sullivan’s blog.)

 

 

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