Nature’s Builders Help Ranchers and Farmers
Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel
Often viewed as pests by ranchers and farmers, nature’s dam builders, the beavers, are now being hailed by many as “ecopartners” whose dams are helping to provide water to parched lands.
The phrase “busy as a beaver” is well chosen given that beavers are non-stop workers who gnaw away trees and foliage in the blink of an eye and build dams overnight. But, when this happens in the wrong spot, flooding one field or drying another, landowners get fighting mad. By the late 1800s in the Northwest, trappers reduced much of the beaver population to get rid of them and make money from their fur.
Lately, though, landowners and the large rodents are forming alliances. Becoming “frenemies” of a sort. That’s because the beavers’ ponds are providing new water sources to augment scarce rainfall and snow runoff during the West’s drought periods.
SurfWriter Girls learned that the beavers’ ponds – created by damming rivers, streams, and lakes – are also improving water quality by helping to filter sediment and recycle nutrients. Fish and wildlife are benefiting, too, finding shelter and hydration in the cool, clear waters around the dams.
The beavers have useful skills to offer. The trick is finding how to work with them. Federal and state government agencies are helping landowners in western states, including California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado, and Idaho, create environments that attract the beavers and to identify the best places for beaver colonies to do their work.
By moving beavers from one area to another and routing dam water runoff to maximize water storage and reduce flooding, beaver construction crews can be valuable allies. Rather than adversaries to get rid of. But, to maximize these alliances landowners and government agencies must be open to new ways of thinking about the beavers and existing laws and practices that affect them.
Now that’s something to build on!
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