Beavers Are Finally Getting the Rebrand They Deserve
It’s been a good week for beavers. On Monday, the New York Times ran an article highlighting the rodents’ position as “highly skilled environmental engineers” capable of mitigating threats like wildfires and drought. The same day, the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed beavers “one of California’s best chances to fight climate change.” And on Tuesday the Los Angeles Times reported that the Golden State is seeking applications for its brand-new beaver restoration unit to protect this “untapped, creative climate solving hero.”
And it’s not just California; pro-beaver policy changes are happening across the US. Here’s the Times:
Beavers, you might say, are having a moment. In Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management is working with partners to build beaver-like dams that they hope real beavers will claim and expand…In Maryland, groups are trying to lure beavers to help clean the water that flows into Chesapeake Bay. In Wisconsin, one study found that beavers could substantially reduce flooding in some of the most vulnerable areas of Milwaukee County.
All of this beaver buzz prompted my editor-in-chief, Clara Jeffery, to ask via Slack, “is…it possible that beavers got a publicist?”
Beavers, after all, have long been seen as a nuisance among some landowners, pests that cause flooding and property damage. According to a federal report, the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program exterminated nearly 25,000 wild beavers in 2021. (Authorities employ various methods to eliminate beavers, including trapping, shooting, and snaring. Back in the ’70s, researchers at Auburn University attempted to investigate whether alligators could be used to slim down beaver populations, but after an increase in alligator attacks on humans in Florida at the time, the study was discontinued.)
So, what changed? When I (half-jokingly) asked Ben Goldfarb, author of the 2018 book, Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter if beavers have a new PR agent, his answer was yes—kind of.
To be sure, beaver fans have been around for centuries, if not longer. As Goldfarb writes, many Indigenous groups have long recognized beavers’ value. The Blackfeet tribe, for instance, viewed beavers as a sacred species and prohibited killing the animals. And after Europeans hunted beavers to near extinction to make stupid-looking hats, American naturalist Enos Mills wrote in his 1913 book In Beaver World that beavers were actually “useful to man” and should be viewed as the “original Conservationist.” “This notion of beavers as valuable and good has always been with humans in some form,” Goldfarb says.
But he also notes that in recent years there’s been a growing body of peer-reviewed evidence hyping the utility of beavers. “They improve water quality, they create salmon habitat, they store water in the case of a drought, and they help mitigate flooding after really intensive rainfall,” Goldfarb says. That science is finally trickling down to policymakers and journalists.
WU added a local Wyoming beaver image on the cover:
Cover photo by @samblandphotography