The Bountiful Benefits Of Bringing Back The Beavers

Few species manipulate their surroundings enough to make big ecological changes. Humans are one. Beavers are another.

At one point, the rodents numbered in the hundreds of millions in North America, changing the ecological workings of countless streams and rivers. As settlers moved West, they hunted and trapped them to near extinction.

Now there are new efforts across the Western U.S. to understand what makes them tick, mimic their engineering skills, boost their numbers, and in turn, get us more comfortable with the way they transform rivers and streams.

Much like us, beavers build dams along streams for their own benefit. They make ponds to protect their lodges and flood areas to increase the vegetation they feed on and use for building materials. While their motivations are selfish, in the process they end up helping their woodland friends, like elk, moose, birds, fish and insects.

Scientists have shown we get lots of benefits, too. Beaver dams improve water quality, trap and store carbon — and in the aggregate could be a significant way of storing groundwater in dry climates.

Beaver reintroduction projects are already underway in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Washington state. Sections of Rocky Mountain National Park, and vast swathes of the American West, seem primed for a beaver comeback with plenty of available habitat yet to be turned into beaver ponds.

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