Beavers play a crucial but often unrecognized role in conservation. As nature’s ecosystem engineers—felling trees and building dams that change ecosystems—beavers benefit other species including freshwater fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and insects. The wetlands that beavers create and maintain even build resiliency to the impacts of climate change by decreasing flood intensity, storing carbon and moderating water temperatures.
That’s why Defenders is working with landowners on cost-effective, low-maintenance coexistence techniques and tools. For example, if a beaver dam is causing a pond to flood a road, inserting a pipe in the dam where the beavers can’t hear the water trickling away can drop the water level and solve the problem. “Beavers make dams where they hear the sound of flowing water to try to plug the leaks,” explains Aaron Hall, Defenders’ senior aquatic biologist. Another solution that prevents beavers from felling trees is to surround the trunks with fencing or to paint the lower area with a mix of sand and paint. “Beavers, just like us, don’t like the gritty feeling of sand when chewing,” says Hall.
In cases where coexistence is not possible, beavers can be relocated to a new home, often in an area that historically had an abundance of beavers before trapping wiped them out.
“Relocating beavers is a lot of work,” says Hall. “We want to make sure we keep the whole extended family together because it will increase the odds that they will survive and the relocation will be a success. Often four generations live in the same lodge.”
Hall sets up live-traps in the evening and checks them first thing in the morning. The scented traps work like big suitcases made of mesh fencing. When a beaver steps in the middle, the trap folds up and holds the beaver out of the water to prevent drowning. The beaver can then be safely moved into a larger cage for transport and release.
The last beaver family Defenders helped to relocate before COVID-19 ground field work to a halt had five kits. “We returned them to mountain habitat in Colorado where beavers had been absent for a few years,” says Hall. “The hope is that these beavers will repair the unmaintained beaver dams and create new dams and ponds of their own, all the while improving habitat for at-risk species.”
Protecting beavers across the country still has a long way to go.
For example, last fall the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to reject a Defenders-backed petition to permanently ban all commercial and recreational beaver hunting and trapping on federally owned lands in the state. “It is unfortunate that the commission rejected the petition because beavers not only improve water quality for our communities, they also help our forests build climate resiliency against the devastating wildfires that have become a reality in the state every summer now,” says Sristi Kamal, a Defenders’ senior Northwest representative. “It is disheartening that the beaver is Oregon’s state animal and yet Oregon has no population monitoring or limit on beaver harvest because they are classified as ‘predators’ in the state and managed by the legislature.”
However, the petition’s arguments did compel the commission to start a stakeholder workgroup to analyze this issue in the state. “We will continue to work with the commission and try to compel the legislature to protect this valuable species on federal and state lands,” says Kamal.
There’s an app for that
Defenders’ Center for Conservation Innovation is also playing a role in beaver recovery. Earlier this year, it released a user-friendly, data collection app that allows groups and individuals to help advocates and scientists across the country find out where beavers are currently found, where habitat restoration is needed and how beavers interact with the landscape.
With a smartphone, iBeaver can record the location of a user’s observation and then gather more information through a series of straightforward questions with visuals. Over time, the information collected will fill in the knowledge gap of where beavers live, where they don’t, where they could and where conflicts need resolution.
Check it out at defenders.org/ibeaver.