Maybe you’ve heard: there’s no better partner in restoring waterways than North America’s largest rodent, the American Beaver. The word’s getting around! At the State of the Beaver Conference last week in Canyonville, Oregon, beaver believers from across the country (and even a few from across the pond) gathered to affirm life-changing encounters with beaver oases in droughty southern California; unpack interactions between beavers and bison in the traditional territory of the Blackfeet Nation; and drool over descriptions of “beaver bitters” and other brews from the UK, where wildlife professionals are ramping up the reintroduction of European beavers (Castor fiber) for all the ecosystem benefits they provide.
Grainy screenshots from the conference. Beer brewing readers, please take note. This beer is good PR. Let’s make it happen. Floodplain porter, anyone?
The conference, hosted by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians’ Seven Feathers Casino, was an opportunity to share stories, successes, and challenges in beaver restoration, mimicry, policy, and more. In a nutshell, we came together to celebrate and grow the good work of collaborating with another species for a more resilient and beautiful world.
GHCC has been working with many partners in our region over the last several years to define and prioritize restoration opportunities for beavers and their habitats in our landscape. Through community science, our supporters have helped us, including local land managers, get a better handle on beaver presence and activity in Northeast Oregon. Through the Northeast Oregon beaver working group, we’ve nurtured local capacity to respond to beaver conflicts, so beavers can stick around and provide their ecosystem services without causing problems for their human neighbors. Our partners are designing river restoration projects with beaver recolonization as a goal.
We’re doing all this because we, and our partners, understand that beaver-stewarded waterways are resilient to drought, fire, and flood; store massive amounts of carbon; are hotspots of biodiversity and ecological abundance; and are just plain magical to slosh around in.
That magic shouldn’t be taken lightly. One of our big takeaways from the conference was the sheer joy of seeing waterways come back to life — expanding enormously in complexity and abundance — with small, simple modifications in how the systems flow. By going in with hand tools and “building like beavers,” weaving little dams to lift creeks out of their incised channels and back out across their floodplains, we humans can help our headwaters find their full expression again, directly contributing to the health of our local ecosystems — and, by extension, our biosphere, this world of water and life.
Year three of a process-based restoration project in a meadow in Northern California. Humans used simple tools to expand the floodplain of this stream by 2292%, adding 6.7 miles of braided channels. Beavers have already arrived; they’ll be the ongoing stewards of this meadow. Credit: Swift Water Designs.
American beavers and their European cousins were once ubiquitous across the entire top half of the globe. All the wildlife of the northern hemisphere have evolved alongside them — even humans. Historical beaver trapping, and impacts from land conversion, mining, resource mismanagement, and ongoing recreational and “nuisance” trapping, have left many of our streams degraded and in dire need of their original stewards. Beavers can do a lot with a little, but they need our respect and support to proliferate across our landscapes again.
We can help by protecting them where they are, helping them stay where they choose to settle, and jump-starting the habitat recovery that will support their return. We can learn a lot from them about stewarding abundance, providing homes and resources for myriad species with minimal energy inputs. And we can help, too, by embracing our role as collaborators (not controllers) with other beings in the web of life.
Another grainy screenshot from the conference. What more needs to be said? Credit: our new friends in Southern California, the SLO Beaver Brigade.