More effective and less expensive than logging, beaver also provide fish, wildlife and flood control benefits-

After almost every large wildfire or fires that do significant damage to structures, people ask for proactive measures. The desire for this is rational. It needs no explanation.

Officeholders usually respond, verbally at least. Politicians’ solutions, however, are often useless. One reason is lack of knowledge, but probably as often they have other agendas that can be fanned by fear of wildfire. These politicians’ proposed solutions often sound plausible because they use common public ignorance to achieve credibility for what the politician is pushing. The most common plausible sounding solution used in the Western United States is large scale fuel reduction — little fuel; little fire.

A big problem with fuels reduction is that you have to pay to have it done. Potential fuel covers hundreds of millions of acres. We say “potential” fuel because what will burn varies greatly. Some years are too wet. Every year hundreds of fires burn out, but a wind, not drought could make them quickly into great conflagrations. Politicians often use the words “logging” and “fuel reduction” in the same breath, but commercial logging, where  the land owner gets paid, only works for good timber. That’s mostly not what is burning. Dry brush, droughty green trees, dying or dead trees, cheatgrass, and annual weeds — that’s what is usually burning. It is difficult and far too expensive to eliminate these.

One idea that is rarely mentioned is to keep the stream bottoms green and raise the humidity.  How could this be done? Let’s restore beaver to the creeks of the Western United States. This is much less expensive than cutting out or clearing potential fuels. It also has significant fish and wildlife benefits. We can often add flood control too, plus the recharge of aquifers.

A string of beaver ponds up a drainage is like a permanent fire break. The ponds not only enlarge the area covered with water, more importantly, they increase the portion of the creek or streamside area (the riparian zone) that stays green all summer. They raise the ground water level.  Beaver ponds also increase the humidity of air in the drainage. The result is fewer hours in a day when wildfires can burn hot and hard.

Beaver reestablishment is not a sudden new idea. In fact, during the Cold War days there was fear the Soviets would burn off the West by launching thousands of incendiary devices to start range and forest fires. One plan to foil this was to have a massive effort to restore beaver ponds on as many creeks as possible. The Soviets are gone now, but the likelihood of fire has grown as the climate has mostly changed towards drier, with rising temperatures, especially as we look northward.

Additional fire related benefits of beaver are that their ponds offer remote, dispersed water storage reservoirs that could be used by firefighters during fires. Areas with beaver may serve as refuges for all animals during a fire.  Finally, beaver ponds trap sediment and the debris that washes down from burns. As a result a fire’s effect on water quality is reduced.

There are those who complain mightily about beaver due to changes in a creek channel, the animal’s  tendency to plug culverts and small bridges, and flooding from some of their ponds. Beaver sometimes cut shade and ornamental trees, trees that are unique for some reason. However, a large scale program could utilize and efficiently deploy the many methods that have devised to stop or prevent this kind of damage.

Those who trap beaver for fun and profit could have their trapping diverted to live trapping to remove beaver in problem places and redistribute them about the landscape. A wise program could outbid the often small price they get from pelts.

Some observers might point out that many creeks, ponds, and meanders in the West have not had beaver in the memory of anyone living or even any written report of the location. However, British, French and American fur trappers began trapping the beaver 300 or more years ago. Entire areas were not just heavily trapped long ago, but deliberately trapped out — trapped until none were left as part of early day conflict between European powers and the incipient American nation-state. So beaver restoration in places might be a restoration far more profound than that of wolves after an 80-100 year absence.

Beaver could be a powerful tool to tame the effects of climate change.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

43 Responses to Beaver restoration would reduce wildfires

  1. avatar Dan Lynch says:

    To the extent that beaver introduction is feasible I am all for it.

    My concern is that much of the beaver’s food of willow and aspen have been wiped out by grazing. Some places still have it, others don’t.

  2. avatar HoofHugs says:

    There are nearly 50,000 formerly wild horses and burros that will consume both young or older and drier cheat grass and other high fiber, less nutrient dense forage on public lands and greatly diminish the fuel that is available to feed wild fires.

    Ironically, the same International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources that devised the alien, invasive species scheme to rid public lands of wild horses also had the hubris to declare themselves experts on cheat grass—Apparently not quite expert enough about either cheat grass or the ecological role that native wild herds of horses and burros have played in North America for 55 million years.

    There is quite a bit of peer-reviewed scientific literature that indicates that the modern horse Equus caballus originated here in North America and was perhaps as varied in morphology as is the species that boasts over 200 different breeds world wide. Moreover,the mitochondrial species DNA suggest that the horse has a species specific genetic menu of sorts that interacts with the environment, ecosystems, and other factors. The more scientists study the genetics of the horse, the more it appears that God and or nature equipped the horse to survive in a wide variety of climate variations. The horse adapted to prefer cooler seater and tribes in cold whereas the burros, donkeys, and zebras tend to prefer warmer climates. However, both can adapt to ranges within a variety of climates.

    The idea that the North American horse did not exist until introduced by the Spanish is not consistent with fossil, genetic, or paleoanthropologic evidence. The history of the North American horse which is 55 million years long—a long time to even imagine for members of a species that rarely lives even more than 75 years. It is hard for us to imagine that the map of the world today is very different than the map of the world even 15,000 years ago. It is hard for man to imagine that during glacial maximums the continental United States may extend to close to the continental shelf and that there are land bridges between North America on the West as well as on the East. The horse knows this because during global climate extremes, the horse has found those land bridges and sought refugia in other areas always returning to its homeland in North America. However, after the last glacial maximum, for reasons not entirely clear, the Bering land bridge has been covered with 400 to 500 feet of water cutting off a migration corridor for horses and other large mammals that had gradually migrated to the northern most areas of North America.

    Scientists studying the large mammal extinctions in North America have determined that the reasons that species like the mammoth, musk ox, and horse became extinct varies by species. In the case of the North American Equus caballus, scientists found no significant genetic differences in the North American horse and the Eurasian horse. The climate and forage in Europe where the horse survived were similar to that of North America so both climate and ecosystem differences cannot explain the extinction of the North American horse when the same species survived in Europe under similar conditions. Furthermore, the important difference that the international research team did notice was that populations of horses and human populations in Europe were not closely located to one another whereas in North America, indications are that the horse may have been used by humans for agricultural purposes other than food. Humans and horses co-existed for thousands of years, not hundreds as previously thought.

    The horse co-evolved with ecosystems from northern Florida to Alaska and eventually migrated to South America when the tectonic plates shifted and formed the Isthmus of Panama. However, human hubris that belong to men that cannot tell where the line between a species and a subspecies begins and ends are trying to control where every living plant or animal can exist or not—anywhere on the planet. This is a threat to all living organisms, not just wildlife. The horses belong in the ecosystems with which they co-existed not for a few piddly hundred years, but for millennia.

    • avatar Zach says:

      I mean no disrespect to you or your opinion. However, horses and burros have no place on public lands. They are blights upon the landscape like cattle and sheep.

      They died due to natural causes.

      All of the horses and cattle we have here brought over by Europeans. There is no room for their ilk on public lands.

      • avatar ramses09 says:

        Zach, maybe you don’t have a place on public lands. Who are you to say who has the right & who does not. After all – the creatures that you speak about have been here way longer than you. I think they have every right to be here.

        • avatar Zach says:

          I have the right to be on Public Lands because I pay my taxes. Just as you have the same right.

          The creatures I speak of are blights.

          • avatar Nancy says:

            “The creatures I speak of are blights”

            Zach – I have little doubt that many “Native Americans” that florished here for centuries, felt the same way about your family tree and mine, when they started showing up in overwhelming numbers :)

            Start with Custer and then work your way back thru history about how one “invasive” species got a foot hold on what was once a very pristine and orderly, ecosystem.

            • avatar Zach says:

              Because they were doing so bad before our families came over with the horse, cattle, and small pox.

  3. avatar HoofHugs says:

    In response to your wife’s June 1, 2011, column recalling your encounter with a family of wild horses while biking through a nature preserve, I’d just like to point out that most behaviors that humans observe in wild horses are common also to domestic horses. Domestic horses are easily spooked at the unexpected sight of a bicycle whether the bike is being ridden or merely leaning against a tree.

    Horses are grazing herbivores and they have no interest in harming humans, but they are driven to survive and to contribute to the survival of the herd. Their behavior is driven by this simply need. As long as a horse is not cornered and her young is not frightened, humans passing at a distance through horse territory should not fear being harmed by horses. In fact, I’d venture to suggest that had you been hiking rather than biking, you may have passed through this area without the horses’ doing much to show that they were aware of your presence.

    • avatar mikepost says:

      HoofHugs: when we want to talk about feral horses, we will. This string is about beaver restoration.

      • avatar HoofHugs says:

        I must have misunderstood. I thought you were concerned about the wild fires that have caused so much damage in the West. Silly me. I thought you were concerned with ending or ameliorating both human and animal loss of life by reducing the likelihood that wildfires would become monster mega-fires.

        I get it. It is not about the fires. It is about the beavers and finding a reason to justify restoring them when they can cause unpredictable ecological changes to the ecosystems where they exist. Still, they are cute little critters.

        • avatar rork says:

          I’d expect horses to benefit cheatgrass, though “Multi-scale responses of vegetation to removal of horse grazing from Great Basin (USA) mountain ranges” didn’t find significantly more cheatgrass in horse occupied sites. They did find good differences in horse-removed vs horse-occupied sites though.
          Every disaster probably has some side effect we could point to in isolation as being good, we just have to look hard enough.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      HoofHugs,

      I am afraid you did not read the article about our close encounter with the feral horse herd with even the least diligence. See http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2011/06/03/wild-horse/

      We were hiking, not biking. I wrote, for example, “we decided to take a walk past and up a small canyon into the colorful Challis volcanic cliffs just to their east. This is our story.”

      I am sure that horses in general are not looking to harm humans, but the lead mare and the dominant stallion clearly did not like our investigation of what seemed to be a holy ;-) site of stud piles.

      I have no animosity to wild or feral horses, but the day they were extant in the Western Hemisphere was long ago. Whether the landscape of the West is suitable for them in large numbers is an interesting question with no clear answer. That is what I think. In equivalent numbers I think free ranging horses do less damage than an equal number of cattle.

  4. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    I consider the near extirpation of the Beaver in the American West by furtrappers and later all manner of settlers , beginning in the early 1800′s , to be one of the greatest unreported stories of our American environmental litany. Had the fashion trend of the time not shifted to silk hats from fur hats, the Beaver would likely have gone extinct. Millions taken, but only a few percent restored on a few percent of their former range and clearly suitable habitat in the past century. This was a huge faux pas of Manifest Destiny.

    - here is the link to a Beaver informational website with a strong emphasis on restoration : http://www.beaversww.org/

  5. avatar john philip says:

    I agree, whole-heatedly. I guess I wasn’t really aware that they wee still absent in much of their former range. Where they are not but were and could be again, they belong.

  6. avatar Mark Bailey says:

    It would be so easy. Just let it happen. And imagine if at the same time we got the cows out of the streams. Thanks, Ralph.

  7. avatar Neil Meyer says:

    Great article Ralph. I’ve been thinking the last few years that we really have no idea how our western landscapes looked or behaved when the beaver was everywhere and doing their thing. I fly fish the North Platte, it’s my home water, and in the past decade the beaver population has really increased. It seems every time I fish it there are new trees down. My first reaction is still sadness to see the mature cottonwoods felled in bunches and then I remind myself, “The beaver’s just doing it’s job”. It’s fun.

  8. avatar Zach says:

    I agree with this and appreciate you posting this. I would like to add that we would also need to work on changing some of the Draconian laws that come with beaver trapping on (at least) the west coast.

    It is ridiculous that under 10% of the population of Idaho traps, yet there is a “right to trap” amendment in our constitution. How silly. There are no limits to trapping beaver and other small mammals in Idaho. I am not against trapping, but unlimited trapping is not a good practice

    Education would also need to be included in the plan to some extent.

  9. Twenty or so years ago, the Lava Creek Ranch(between Carey and the Craters of the Moon) had a beaver restoration project. Does anyone have any current information about the success of that project?

    • Ralph- I wasn’t sure where I should share an observation from Yellowstone this week, but here goes:

      I observed a herd of about 35 bighorn ewes and lambs across the Yellowstone River from Corwin Springs, Montana, earlier this week. Several of the lambs were sneezing and coughing and had runny noses. Several of the other lambs looked very small for this time of year.
      Bill Hoppe of Gardiner, Montana, has about 20 domestic sheep on his property (near mile marker 5 on the Gardiner/ Livingston highway)) where he killed the wolf this spring. His sheep fence is a jack fence with a large opening net wire fence attached, which allows for easy contact between bighorns and his domestic sheep. I saw bighorn ewes and lambs along the highway within a mile or two in either direction from his pasture.

      The Nez Perce tribe in Idaho monitored a radio collared bighorn ram last year that traveled 47 miles up the Salmon River, during the rut, in his search for females.

      All of the wintering Yellowstone bighorns are very vulnerable to infection carried by a local ram traveling that kind of distance from the sick bighorns I observed or from Hoppe’s domestic sheep.

      • avatar ramses09 says:

        Bill Hoppe’s sheep & lambs must be infected with something (?) Why do the ranchers ALWAYS blame wildlife??? I would bet that the wolf he killed also wasn’t the one who was harassing his sheep either. The mind set of anti-wolf people is amazing.

      • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

        Larry,

        This should really be looked into. There are those idiots who write of “wildlife terrorists” referring to carnivores. I think the deliberate pasturing of sheep next to bighorn sheep fits the description much much better.

  10. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    There are many human-created ‘blights’ on the landscape, unfortunately (see WI Wolf Hunting Facebook page) and tacky marine parks on the seascapes. Surprise! Jack Hanna is on the Board of Directors of SeaWorld and Cypress Gardens.

    I support all creatures returning to the rightful places they once occupied before human greed and violence displaced them. It would be great to have beavers.

    Just as a reminder, it has been decided by law that wild horses have a place in this country as part of our national heritage (which people no longer value) and they are protected by The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, signed into law by Richard Nixon. When things are no longer of any use to us, we shouldn’t just dispose of them. While I do support controlling invasive species (in a humane way), it is interesting to note that there are some invasives that we have no intention of removing, instead cultivating further – so we do not administer it evenly. There are invasive species and inconvenient species. I don’t think our wild horses are an invasive species, and we don’t know that either for certain. I concur with Hoofhugs about their origins.

    No, I am no longer a proud Democrat but an Independent.

  11. avatar WM says:

    Repopulating forestlands at risk for fire with beaver looks at first glance to be a great idea. Probably even worth some research and solid scientific inquiry to see if it is feasible and cost-effective.

    First, how much of the forest landscape would have potential for an effective program? Most beaver habitat, from my recollection involves broad alluvial valleys, with adequate supply of trees for industrious beaver to fell and place along with other materials sufficient to create the shallow ponds and lakes for which they are so famous. Second, does the creation of such ponds actually increase humidity sufficiently to result in higher fuel moistures to slow or prevent or prevent fire in adjacent lands, or serve as effective fire breaks. It would seem this might be a phenomenon that could be simulation modeled by climate and fire scientists fairly easily. The folks in agriculture have studied plant evapo-transporation rates for decades using various forumulas to determine evaporation rates for moisture on crop lands, looking at everything from soil type, texture and color (yes color due to heat absorption properties), and its ability to hold moisture, ambient humidity conditions/air and soil temperatures, and crop uptake of moisture. There are even well documented mathematical formulas for this.

    I suppose another aspect is where this could and should be done – which forest lands are candidates? Beaver typically don’t take up residence in narrow, steep stream bottoms where their dams don’t hold. Beaver ponds, where they can be built, are great for attenuating stream flows and suppressing flood events, and some scientists believe are as important or more important to trophic cascade than wolves for the ecological changes which ensue from their presence and changed habitat, from what I understand.

    Bridge and road engineers are not so fond of beaver and their ponds, however. I recall many years ago one motivation for the Colorado Wildlife Department having an aggressive beaver control program was to knock down the populations in areas where there was risk of beaver dams being breached during flood events sending large amounts of debris downstream blocking culverts, taking out roads, and even bridges. I also have a vague recollection of discussions about this with a relative who was a civil engineer whose duties included looking upstream of bridges he inspected, for unacceptable risks posed by beaver ponds. He did this work, first in MT and then in WA, as a professional engineer.

    All that being said, we need to consider lots of things to stop and maybe even prevent some of these immense fires seen of late.

    And, personally, I think one of the neatest things I remember from a CO backpacking trip years ago, was to see the sun setting over a high mountain lake, and faint wake of a beaver swimming in front of me in the dimming light, followed by a resounding slap of his tail echoing off rock walls at the far end of the lake. Repeated the following morning at sunrise.

    • avatar CodyCoyote says:

      Briefly, I think Beavers create and expand their own habitat as they go about their life’s work. It is in their own self-interest , which in turn benefits the other creatures and the macro-biome they enhance. I’ve been pleasantly surprised more than once at finding a beaver dam and pond where I did not expect one , far from any grove or brisk stream. I’ve also encountered beaver well away from water courses , going overland by foot and not paddle.

      Fooey on the road engineers and land managers if they consider beavers to be a pain.

      Having said that , I do have a photocopy of a totally hilarious story in a Cheyenne WY newspaper from 1937 about three city cops trying to wrangle a large male beaver in a city park. The rodent chewed its way out of the wooded box it had been imprisoned in at great effort, then proceeded to (mostly) gnaw and claw its way out of the back seat of the patrol car in the wee hours. The three cops abandoned the vehicle, declaring it the earned [property of the beast. The State Game Warden was rousted from his slumber at 3 AM and took charge of the situation. He wrestled the beaver and eventually got a firm hold on its tail and dangled it all the way to HQ where it was placed in a metal cage . Then it was driven up into the mountain and released by dawn’s early light.

      The newspaper story was titled ” Three cops lose fight with beaver here “. The warden’s grandson gave me the photocopy of the cherished family scroll , i.e newspaper clipping , that was lore.

      You cannot make this stuff up.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      WM,

      There are many kinds of potential beaver habitat. That which you describe — broad alluvial valleys — are not of much interest for retarding wildfires. Such areas already tend to be well watered. The beaver live in the river banks. They do not build dams.

      Beaver of interest live in the upland creeks and narrow mountain drainages. I am not writing of mountain rivers, but instead secondary and tertiary canyons with much less flow in them; places that might dry up without ponds to regulate the flow.

      My experience in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, is that untrapped beaver here often build pond after pond, right up steep grades with perhaps 20 or so ponds a mile.

      • avatar WM says:

        Ralph,

        Obviously, something motivated you to write this article. Maybe even to reach the conclusions about increasing fuel moisture and creation of physical fire breaks from creation of ponds. I hope your conclusions are correct. Are you aware of any formal inquiry or research going on in this field?

        • avatar Sharon Brown says:

          Much research has been done that indicates beaver activity has a positive effect in increasing both the amount of water stored in a watershed and water availability (dams store more water in the spring for later release. Several of these studies are summarized in “Beaver Wetlands” in the Spring 2011 issue of LakeLine (N.A. Lake Management Soc.: http://beaversww.com/assets/PDFs/Brownrevised.pdf

      • avatar Zach says:

        It is more than likely the work of a colony of beavers.

  12. Beavers are the elixir our forests need, their dams will raise the water table, increase the invertebrate community, make fish populations more dense and diverse and improve wildlife. Even their chewing of trees will spur a natural coppicing that makes for better nesting and an increase in migratory and songbirds.

    But it’s not just the woods that need beavers. Smart cities benefit from ‘nuisance beavers’ too. My own city installed a flow device to control flooding at a beaver dam 6 years ago. Now because of our beaver-tended (safely controlled) wetlands we regularly see otter, steelhead, woodduck, and even mink in a little urban stream.

    Beavers offer the resilience we need as climate change advances.

    Heidi Perryman, Ph.D.
    President & Founder
    Worth A Dam
    http://www.martinezbeavers.org

    • avatar Nancy says:

      +1 Heidi but, beavers that come in around me (most of it private ranch land) are trapped right out (by government trappers) because it might mean someone along the creek with those all precious water rights, might not get enough water on their property and ya certainly can’t have that. Cattle (summering on public lands) and hay come first and the hell with wildlife.

      • In Washington and Utah Ranchers are on a waiting list to get beavers onto their land. It’s all about education and if we tell the beaver story straight and often enough will eventually win the battle.

      • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

        Nancy,

        Yes, as Heidi says it’s all about education. Farmers and ranchers who have nothing but folk tales to go on often believe the beaver steal water by making it flow slowly downhill instead of all coming in a big, short rush.

        Those who have had a chance to see, however, often decide that high flows and then nothing is a bad way to go. A lower, but steady flow all summer, is the way to keep the alfalfa or crops watered.

        • avatar WM says:

          “…steady flow all summer is the way to keep alfalfa or crops watered.”

          Maybe. It all depends on evaporation loss. If there is no storage capacity lower in a drainage with less surface area for evaporation that may be a true statement. I expect for example the Colorado Water Convervation Board engineers and hydrologists might take issue with your statement. Think of comparing the evaporation loss from an uncapped gallon jug (think reservoir here), or from a series of beaver ponds strung out on the landscape where the ponds would arguable accomplish the goal of increasing humidity through evapotranspiration (think about clothes drying on a clothes line with the same amount of water from the gallon jug). There is not an equal tradeoff here.

          • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

            WM,

            You are certainly right that a lot of research needs to be done because there are so many factors that can affect this. For example, I can visualize a deep pond losing less of the stream flow to evaporation than a shallow pond, but then the porosity of the pond bottom matters, so does the relative humidity of the ambient air and the average wind speed.

            Then too water that sinks into the aquifer in a porous pond is not lost downstream because it reemerges (sometimes).

            With a little thought we can come up with many more factors.

        • avatar Nancy says:

          Ralph,

          Its all about hay in my area and I suspect that a beaver pond would take away from that annual maximum yield. Would also infringe on maximum amount of grazing area once the cows are put back on.

          We’ve had two fires here over the years (one on rangeland – 500 acres. One in the forest – 3,500 acres) and I’m sure beaver ponds would of been a tremendous help fighting them. As it was, helicopters had to travel aways to dip out of man made, decorative ponds.

          • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

            Nancy,

            One of the things I mentioned in a comment above is that I think, other things being equal, ponds in canyons or draws will be of more benefit retarding fires than ponds on more gentle areas.

  13. avatar Jon Way says:

    I really enjoyed this story and viewpoint Ralph. I think it is an important one that deserves further thought by policy makers.

    However, an additional reason to restore beavers is that they are a native species that humans nearly (or did in certain areas) killed out. If state game agencies want to repeatedly brainwash us with their great North American Model of Wildlife Mgmt, they should reintroduce an important and native species for their own inherent right as much as to control wild fire (which your column clearly and rightly touches upon).

  14. avatar rork says:

    I’d appreciate pointers to effects on fish. Common wisdom (I know, that phrase should sent off alarms) in norther lower and upper MI is that the water is warmed, and trout spawning areas (gravel)reduced. Might benefit other fish I admit. I was actually hoping for a bit of a decline thanks our wolves. North of Superior, beavers might benefit trout though. Spoon feed me please.

    Both north and south of Lake Superior, I’m always amazed at how much beavers determine what it is I am seeing. The turmoil of creation and abandonment of dams makes for large banks of orchids and other cool plants that are otherwise rare. Yes, my stated goal on a day might be to go fishing, but fish are less than half of the gifts I receive.

    • avatar Mike says:

      There has been quiet a lot of research on the impact of beaver on salmonids and the conclusions are overwhelming: ACTIVE beaver ponds increase fry survival, over-winter survival, and adult fish weight. Previous conclusions about reduced gravels and migration barriers were un-supported speculation. Beaver co-evolved with trout and salmon for thousands of years.

      • avatar Nancy says:

        Mike – you’re back, how was your trip?

      • avatar rork says:

        http://www.beaversww.org/assets/PDFs/Wisconsins-War-on-Nature.pdf
        discusses possible beaver effects on brook trout in WI. Active reductions of beaver (225K in 1985, 67K in 2008) to presumably benefit brook trout occurred – so the managers there thought beaver bad for trout. It sounds like they didn’t try to have treated and control areas to actually measure and test the effects though. Either it was inconvenient, the data was already overwhelming, or they are crappy scientists who I’d like to chew out. I can’t imagine not wanting to do a better-designed experiment.

        The article mentions how this thinking might be wrong, but not with much counter-data. I was fairly influenced by the idea that protection from bad drought effects by raising ground water is important for many creatures, maybe even long-term good for brook trout, but even if just trout-neutral or slightly trout-decreasing, other benefits are so important that perhaps we’d tolerate a few less brookies.
        I’m openminded. My initial comment was to wonder if the effects are different depending on just where you are, and the species of fish. It’s an amazing wind that blows no ill.

  15. avatar Yvette says:

    I’ve not ever heard of this before, but think it’s a viable idea. The first thing that came to my mind is what scale would be needed for this to function to reduce wildfire intensity. We’d need to look at the scale on a watershed basis, but also the size of the wetlands and ponds that the beaver creates.

    One of the pros is many natural wetlands would be reestablished. With the ecological succession of those wetlands, or beaver ponds, as Ralph M. referred to them, the ecological benefits would be profound. Since the arrival of Europeans to N. America, we’ve drained and/or lost over 50% of the wetlands. It’s a loss of over 200 million acres of wetlands. Dependent of the scale we’d be allowing some areas to get closer to the natural state it was before the western expansion across America.

    Under section 404 of the Clean Water Act we’re supposedly not allowed to lose more wetland acreage. Something Bush I dubbed, ‘No Net Loss’. However, when wetlands have been constructed to replace natural wetlands that were lost they typically aren’t functioning at the same ecological value as the wetlands that were drained or filled. All I’m saying is there is potential to let the beavers reestablish wetlands that would function at a much higher ecological value. Possibly, those wetlands could be wetland ‘banks’ to serve as credits for other wetlands that are drained. They would have additional benefits other than decreasing wildfire intensity.

    The only thing is it might be a hard sell to the public. One, beavers aren’t very popular from my experience. I’ve found people have a long history of negative view toward beavers damming streams and flooding natural floodplains. Plus, once a beaver is allowed to establish a natural wetland then the ‘no net loss’ of wetlands would probably be applied. That’s a good thing for us ecologists, but I have doubts that farmers and ranchers would like it.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey