Editorial: Climate change and drought could cut beavers

Millions of highly skilled environmental engineers are ready to make our continent more resilient to climate change. It restores wetlands that absorb carbon, store water, purify pollution and clean cold water for salmon and trout. they are Recognized all over the world To help with Reduce the risk of forest fires. Scientists have Evaluate their environmental services At approximately $179,000 per square mile annually.

And they work for free.

Our ally in mitigating and adapting to climate change across the West could be a paddle-tailed rodent: the North American beaver.

there is strong Scholars’ consensus and environmental managers about the benefits of working with beavers to protect our natural environments. Beavers can help us continue to live, work, and enjoy western landscapes. As ecosystem engineers, they build dams and dig channels to escape predators. Their manipulation of plants for food and building materials results in wide-ranging environmental gains.

However, despite the benefits of the ecosystem for beavers, we have long driven them from their homes. When the European American fur trade was killed Hundreds of millions of beavers, destroyed the engine that built and maintained the North American wetlands. California alone lost as much 90% of the wetland area. Humans keep tearing down dams and beavers’ lodges when they get in our way.

Instead of chasing beavers, it’s time to call them back.

Watershed scientists and land managers at the state and federal levels can determine Thousands of streams Most suitable for beavers. Simple steps can help bring them to watersheds in need—whether that means helping restore river environments to attract scattered young beavers from existing nearby populations, or reintroducing beavers to sites where they thrived before the fur trade and habitat degradation for them as well as their destruction role.

The beavers can then initiate protective natural processes. Dams and canals slow the flow of streams and rivers, and water spreads through the floodplains. Once the water slows down it loses its ability to hold sand, silt and gravel, and thus these materials accumulate. Wet ground and regular sediment deposits create fertile conditions for plants that evolved with beavers and are more productive when chewed regularly. All of this builds and maintains wetlands.

this is nature restoration It could, in turn, help stave off the worst effects of climate change that are warming streams, deepening droughts, and fueling wildfires. These threats harm the native fish and wildlife of our communities during drain billions of dollars from our economies.

River wetlands rebuilt by beavers can fend off rising temperatures, feed carbon-storing plants and benefit sensitive species including hardheaded trout. Spreading water across floodplains creates a web of fire outbreaks – gaps in combustible vegetation that can stop or slow wildfires. Beaver wetlands help combat drought because their dams raise the water table so that the land stores water like a sponge, and seeps outward in the drier seasons, keeping the waterways flowing instead of drying up.

As part of a team of state, federal, and university researchers, we tested the ability of beavers along Eastern Oregon Creek It was so eroded by years of poor management that water was gushing several feet below the surrounding terrain. Erosion has resulted in the drying up of the floodplains, dead riverbed vegetation, and a self-sustaining cycle of drying and degradation in the channel.

Repairing the creek would require slowing the flow of water, and piling it up to reconnect the channel to the floodplain. This is going to be a huge request for beavers on their own, so help us out. we hand-built structures To imitate beaver dams to start slowing and spreading the flow.

This work attracted early beavers from other habitats. In just a few years, more beavers found the place and took over maintenance. Based on our initial efforts, they turned logs, mud, and sticks into structures that stretched across the valley and spread the water through many small branching channels, canals, and ponds. Willows and other plants appeared on the side of the stream. Water soaked in the ground in the store gradually filtered out, compensating for dry spells.

Upstream communities may worry that letting a land dam builder lose it could lead to flooding that could damage property. But beavers are creatures of habit, which means we can predict which locations have the lowest potential for human conflict and the greatest potential for environmental benefits. We can attract beavers to remote areas such as millions of acres of national forests and other federal and state lands. And we have tools to prevent the work of beavers from damaging property, such as devices that keep beaver ponds at safe levels, fencing or paint to protect trees, and checks to ensure drain systems aren’t clogged.

The work is also relatively cheap. The main costs of restoring the beaver-based stream include helping them gain a foothold by starting restoration work ourselves and, when necessary, moving the beavers to the correct natural site. This approach usually costs Thousands of dollars per mileand not the millions per mile that we often spend on infrastructure solutions.

This solution also requires that our population of environmental champions not be destroyed. Last year alone, almost 25,000 beavers Wildlife control officers killed in response to people’s complaints and requests to protect their property. Imagine the value to communities of promoting non-lethal options instead, such as adapting the environment to coexist with beavers or, when this is not an option, moving them to less conflict-prone locations.

The task is formidable, but so is the ability of beavers to help. Modest funding added for beaver recovery California budget this year. Groups that protect wildlife, fisheries and wetlands must join forces across the West to make beavers an integral part of a coordinated response to climate change.

Chris Jordan is director of the Mathematical Biology and Systems Monitoring Program at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Emily Fairfax is an assistant professor of environmental sciences and resource management at the California Channel Islands State.