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Posts Tagged ‘beavers’

Photo: Steve Raubenstine, Pixabay
Once considered a nuisance, beavers In England are now protected.

I remember a woman in my town who was fighting beavers that had decided to build a dam on her property. It was a big property with plenty of room, but When beavers start a project, the dead trees and grass smell awful. A year or so later, I ran into her and asked about the anti-beaver campaign. Oh, she said, I like them now. It smelled bad at first, but now there’s a beautiful lake.

Chalk one up for the lessons of Nature.

Recently the radio show Living on Earth had a segment on a similar learning process in England.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: The Eurasian beaver is native to the British Isles but was hunted to extinction some 400 years ago. But not long ago a beaver family mysteriously turned up on a river in Devon, England, prompting concerns about disease and flooding from beaver dams. Some scientists were able to persuade the UK government to allow the beavers to stay as part of a reintroduction pilot plan and recently confirmed that it’s working. Professor Richard Brazier is a hydrologist at the University of Exeter and spoke with Living on Earth’s Jenni Doering.

“JENNI DOERING: So it sounds like these beavers are here to stay. What made this trial a success?

“RICHARD BRAZIER: Yes, that’s correct. The government has allowed the animals to [not just remain] but also to expand. We learn a multitude of different things in this really intensively farmed lowland catchment setting. We learned that the beaver dams could reduce the impact of flooding downstream. We learned that the dams could filter pollutants out of the water. We learned, of course, that the animals in bringing water and creating wetlands to these otherwise dry and drained landscapes that they [bring] biodiversity back. …

“DOERING: What do you think the landscape has lost in all of those centuries of no beavers on rivers?

“BRAZIER: Well, it’s lost a very efficient water-resource manager in the beaver. And therefore, it’s lost a lot of water. And in fact, for the last few months, we have pretty dry weather conditions at this time of year. And during those times a lot of our small streams and tributaries, agricultural ditches, they just run dry. … When you lose that water, you tend to lose all the aquatic life, all the aquatic ecology, that depends upon it. So in bringing the beavers back, and now there’s [15] family groups of these animals in the River Otter, we’re seeing water coming back. … It’s an amazing thing to see because the landscape transforms even in just a few years into a wetland, wildlife rich water resourceful landscape again. …

“DOERING: How do [the rivers and streams] change?

“BRAZIER: [You know, for] hundreds of years, we’ve we’ve straightened our streams and rivers, we’ve deepened them, we’ve even dredged them. … [Beavers] start to push the water sideways back onto floodplains, they start to put meanders back into streams and rivers, they [bring back] the trees like willow, sallow, hazel. And so we get abundant vegetation flourishing again. …

DOERING: And how much have these beavers on the River Otter in the Devin area, how much have they cleaned up the water?

“BRAZIER: [Most] of the lowland streams and rivers in England [hold] a fine layer of sediment above the bed of the stream, which is soil that’s left on agricultural fields. When the beavers build dams, they capture that soil. And so immediately downstream for tens of meters, you see these beautiful clean gravels. And water flowing through those gravels is well oxygenated because it’s not full of fine sediment. Those clean gravels are so critical as spawning grounds for salmon and sea trout. …

“DOERING: So before we go, can you share your favorite fun fact about beavers?

“BRAZIER: Favorite fun fact. That’s a good one. Probably the way in which the [adult] female treats the kids [manipulating] these young sticks and shoots for the young beavers just like humans. [They] really are like a little family.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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beaver-map-saltwater-beavers

Illustration: Mark Garrison
“The mouths of the Elwha, Snohomish, and Skagit rivers in Washington State provide important saltwater habitat for beavers, salmon, and other estuarine species,” says the radio show Living on Earth.

One of the main reasons I like writing a blog is that I like to learn new things and to have something interesting to think about. I save up promising links, sometimes just because the headline looks interesting. Later, when I actually work on the post, it’s such a treat to read the whole story!

When I saw that there was such a thing as saltwater beavers, I thought, Really? This is a keeper!

From the radio show Living on Earth: “Until recently, biologists assumed that beavers occupied freshwater ecosystems only. But scientists are now studying beavers living in brackish water and how they help restore degraded estuaries and provide crucial habitat for salmon, waterfowl, and many other species. Journalist Ben Goldfarb speaks with Host Bobby Bascomb.

“BASCOMB: The eager beaver is an extremely effective engineer of its environment. Beaver dams hold back water that can be a nuisance to homeowners, but they create a complex system of ponds and wetlands that are a haven for numerous plant and animal species. …

“Scientists recently discovered that beavers are also happy to live in the brackish mix of fresh and salt water in coastal areas. And just as they help restore freshwater ecosystems, beavers could also hold the key to restoring damaged coastal wetlands. Journalist Ben Goldfarb wrote about saltwater beavers for Hakai Magazine. …

“Ben, how surprised were you to find out that there are saltwater beavers? …

“GOLDFARB: It was definitely surprising. … It’s just really within the last several years, thanks in large part to this guy, Greg Hood, a scientist who works in the Skagit river in Washington, that we’ve begun to understand that [beavers are] living full-time in these intertidal estuaries. …

“BASCOMB: You actually went to visit one of those beaver lodges on this Snohomish river in Puget Sound. Can you describe that? …

“GOLDFARB: It’s kind of this huge saltmarsh that’s scored with these little freshwater channels that freshwater comes down in. But then when the tide comes up twice a day, those freshwater channels are completely submerged, they’re inundated. So it’s this really dynamic ecosystem with the tides are just going in and out all the time. And beavers are actually building in there. So they’ll build these dams that when the tide comes up, the dams are actually completely submerged under water, you could kayak over the top of one of these dams and have no idea that they were beavers building there. And then when the tide goes out again those dams suddenly reemerge. …

[It’s] almost like the beavers are anticipating these tidal fluctuations and are accounting for them in their construction, and in this really sophisticated way. …

“BASCOMB: How do their dams in these intertidal areas affect the ecosystem around them? …

“GOLDFARB: What Greg found is that [these beaver construction sites] are hugely important for juvenile salmon, especially. You know when the tide goes out, those fish would get flushed out into these estuaries where they’re really at risk of being preyed upon by larger fish, by birds. … Baby salmon were three times more abundant in these beaver pools than in other habitat. …

“BASCOMB: Wow. So, they really serve a critical function. I mean, everybody likes salmon, right? The bears, the whales, people. …

“GOLDFARB: We saw this past year just how badly the southern resident killer whales are doing, the orcas in Puget Sound, and they’re essentially starving because there’s just not enough salmon. …

“BASCOMB: It’s all connected. Now, you write about how beaver ponds can help restore degraded coastal wetlands. And there’s clear evidence for that in removal of dams on the Elwha River in Washington State. …

“GOLDFARB: Two enormous dams had basically been there since the ’20s, I think, just trapping enormous amounts of sediment and blocking salmon runs. … A few years ago the government actually bought those dams and — thanks to pressure from native tribes — removed the dams, and opened up this huge amount of spawning habitat for salmon, so now salmon are swimming up river, past the former dam sites.

“[But] the river mouth had been starved of sediment for so long that it basically just flowed straight into the ocean. There was no real estuary there. … Beavers are really going into town in there. And by creating burrows and canals and dams, they’re just creating this amazing habitat complexity. They’re just opening up lots and lots of little spaces for all kinds of salmon and trout and other fish to live in.”

More here.

Photo: Becky Matsubara, Flickr
Because they build dams that shape the very environments in which they live, beavers are a classic example of a “keystone species.”

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There’s been a lot in the news lately about water shortages in the West. In the search for any help they can get, some concerned citizens are turning to the oft-maligned beaver.

Living on Earth‘s Steve Curwood gets to the bottom of the story with Sarah Koenigsberg, the filmmaker behind The Beaver Believers.

“In the drought-ridden West, some people are partnering with beavers to restore watersheds, where, before trappers arrived, the large rodents once numbered in the millions. Filmmaker Sarah Koenigsberg captures various efforts to reintroduce beavers to their former habitat in her documentary The Beaver Believers and tells host Steve Curwood why beavers are essential for a healthy ecosystem. …

Koenigsberg: We feature the stories of a biologist, a hydrologist, a botanist, an activist, a psychologist and a hairdresser. So these are all very different people who share the common passion of restoring beaver to the west. Some work within the federal agencies, the forest service, others are just average citizens who stumbled upon to the cause accidentally …

“What struck me with all of these beaver believers is that they are working on the problem of water, which is one of the biggest problems of climate change, but is very tangible. They’re working at the level of their own watershed. And while they do work very hard, they’re finding great joy and satisfaction in this work. …

Curwood: There’s a finite supply of water in the drought-ridden American west. Beaver can’t increase that water supply. What can beaver do to help the water situation? …

Koenigsberg: What they do is they redistribute the water that does fall down onto the landscape, so if you picture spring floods — all that water that comes rushing down in March or April just goes straight through the channels and out to the ocean — what beavers do is they almost act like another snowpack reserve, whether it’s rain or snow runoff, all of that water can slow way down behind a beaver pond and then it slowly starts to sink into the ground. It stretches outward making a big recharge of the aquifer and then that water ever so slowly seeps back into the stream throughout the rest of the spring and summer as it’s needed so that we end up with water in our stream systems in July and August when there is no longer rainfall in much of the west.” More here.

Photo: Sarah Koenigsberg
The Beaver Believers live-trapped a beaver family including this kit in Aurora, CO, and relocated them into the forest on a private ranch.

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