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Beaver "engineers" enlisted in B.C. to fix watershed problems

When we have a water pipe problem in a building, we call an engineer to design a fix.

When we have a watershed issue–like regular flooding that threatens a town, or droughts that threaten crops, livestock and spawning fish, and create a fire hazard–we can call … a beaver?

Yup, you read that right. A beaver. 

Beavers–who work cheap and need little supervision–are being enlisted in B.C. to heal our troubled watersheds and the jobs, industries, and communities that rely on them.

Beavers are being enlisted in B.C. to heal our troubled watersheds and the jobs, industries, and communities that rely on them. Illustration credit: Code Blue B.C.

Beavers are increasingly recognized in B.C. as “ecosystem engineers.” Their dams are “speed bumps” that alter and slow down waterways, reducing flood risk. Upstream, they create wetlands that support plants and animals. They help clean water, by blocking pollutants. And they help create deep aquifers, helping watersheds weather droughts.

“Beaver-based restoration is a cost-effective way to enhance wetlands and fish habitats, while helping store water on the landscape and reducing the severity of future droughts, floods, and fires,” says the B.C. Wildlife Federation

The federation and its partners lead several beaver-based watershed management and restoration projects in B.C.In some locations the partners are building artificial dams, reported CBC, in the hope that beavers will make homes there and maintain them for the long term. In other places, they are releasing beavers from the Interior Wildlife Rehabilitation Society, where they are needed to help maintain remote watersheds and rehabilitate damaged wetlands.

Formally named Castor canadensis, beavers are North America’s biggest rodent, weighing as much as 32 kilograms and measuring as long as 1.3 metres.

Beavers have always been famous in Canada. They’re our official emblem. Their pelts helped establish Canada’s fur trade. A pastry is named after them (beaver tails–yum!), and so is giardia, the parasite known as Beaver Fever (ugh). Beavers are also the butt of countless, mostly really bad, jokes. “Why did the beaver cross the road? Because he didn’t give a dam.” 🤣

In the past, trappers hunted Canada’s beavers to near-extinction. And in some places, beavers are still seen as pests, because they gnaw down wanted trees, or build dams in places that annoy people.

But the fact is, beavers have always been brilliant and essential ecological managers. What’s new is that their hard work for watershed security is now being widely recognized. 

And in B.C. beavers are increasingly seen as unsung watershed heroes.

Wood chips left after beavers removed a tree on a B.C. pond. The animals restore wetlands and watersheds, and are increasingly recognized in B.C. as “ecosystem engineers.” Photo credit: Code Blue B.C.

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  • Deborah Jones
    published this page in Stories 2023-11-09 12:19:34 -0800