Beavers are a keystone species and their habitats allow other animals, fish, birds, and amphibians to flourish.
More wetlands in the State of Illinois--which beavers actually can engineer--would help prevent flooding; improve water quality; raise the levels of our water tables; and prevent contamination of our rivers from agricultural runoff.
Wetlands can also be profitable through “nutrient farming,” which means that farmers could turn farmland back into wetlands and make a profit off it by producing environmental credits that can be sold to municipal or industrial waste-treatment facilities.
Because wetlands absorb and sequester carbon from the atmosphere through plant photosynthesis, they keep the carbon from warming the climate and help address climate change.
While beavers do bring the risk of tree damage or flooding, modern tools for beaver management such as the installation of flow devices or tree wrapping allow for the protection of public safety, infrastructure, and landscaping.
Beavers offer educational opportunities by engaging the public with the natural environment. Beavers provide first-hand lessons about habitat, biodiversity, and territory. Children can see with their own eyes how the population of birds, frogs, turtles, and other wildlife respond to construction of a beaver dam.
Illinois could create new eco-tourism destinations by shifting our paradigm and partnering with beavers. We could develop wetlands with boardwalks and observation decks so people could come out and hike and see the wildlife.
Even in an urban setting, beavers provide ecological benefits. Beaver dams in urban settings can provide benefits similar to those in rural areas, including storing surface and groundwater, regulating flow, improving stream complexity, storing sediment, and increasing biodiversity, while also restoring stream resilience.
Some fun facts about beavers:
Beavers are monogamous and mate for life.
The lodges they build in riverbanks and along lake shores are warm and dry inside and accessible through underwater passages.
Beaver habitats create wetlands, which creates habitats for amphibians, birds, turtles, and other water-dwelling wildlife. Because of the positive effect beavers have on other animals, ecologists consider them a “keystone species.”
In order for the beaver to spend so much time under water, he has nose and ear valves that shut to keep the water out while he is submerged and he has a second set of eyelids to act as goggles.
Beavers have two sets of lips, one set that closes in front of the teeth, and another that closes behind. This allows him to transport building materials and food without drowning.
Beavers of the Ice Age were 8 feet long and 200 pounds.
Beavers and humans have coexisted in Illinois for approximately 10,000 years. They were trapped out of existence in the mid-1800s but were reintroduced between the 1920s and the 1950s. They are a Darwinian success story.
Only a couple of hundred years ago, as many as 400 million beavers populated this country. Native American Indians referred to them as “little Indians”, spiritual creatures to be treated with reverence and respect. Then came the trappers, who called the beaver “living gold” and trapped them to the brink of extinction for their luxurious pelts.
April 7 is National Beaver Day
Many states in New England are no longer trapping and killing "nuisance" beavers for causing flooding. Instead, they are using flow devices or "beaver deceivers" to lower water levels below flood conditions, and "beaver-proofing" their culverts to prevent flooding.
The State of Washington relocates "nuisance" beavers in order to develop wetlands, which has helped salmon populations recover.
Once a habitat is attractive to beavers, it will likely remain attractive to beavers. If you trap and kill one family of beavers, a new family will move in, and they’ll cut down new trees if they aren’t properly protected or build dams that cause floods. And then these beavers’ deaths will have been for nothing. Wouldn’t it just be better to put remediation efforts into place and learn to live with the beavers?
Do you know how wildlife experts can tell the sex of a beaver? Unless a mother beaver is nursing, it is impossible to determine the sex of a beaver visually. Instead, researchers nudge the beaver into a cloth sack head first, turn the beaver upside down, and squeeze secretions out of his or her anal glands. Then they give the secretions a sniff. If it smells like motor oil, the beaver is a boy. If it smells like old cheese, the beaver is a female. (Eager, page 93)
For an in-depth examination of the history of beavers in North America, how important this keystone species is, and how other states are harnessing the power of the beavers to grow wetlands, attract wildlife, reverse climate change, improve water quality, grow water tables, and so much more, pick up a copy of or download the book Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb.
According to Goldfarb, there are two different measures of how many beavers can exist. There is biological carrying capacity, which is the number of animals a given habitat can sustain. Then there is cultural carrying capacity, which is how many beavers humans can tolerate. Right now, our community has a very low cultural carrying capacity, which needs to change. Humans don't need to trap and kill beavers in order to keep them from cutting down trees and causing flooding with their dam building. Instead, we can wrap trees and install flow devices.
Beavers can make a significant contribution to combating climate change. More wetlands will help prevent flooding; improve water quality; raise the levels of our water tables; grow the population of birds, amphibians, fish, and other mammals; provide eco-tourism opportunities for the State of Illinois; prevent further contamination of our rivers; *and* offer economic opportunities for farmers.
There are so many things that humans are unwilling to give up in order to address climate change and fix our environment. What if we just figured out how to let beavers live in our ponds, lakes, and waterways? What if we just reclaimed land that was turned into farmland back into wetlands? It's such a simple solution, and so much easier and less expensive than so many other potential solutions.
Other Success Stories Find out how the city of Martinez, California, went to bat for the beavers living in the city's creek, just like we did for the Glenview beavers, by reading this article, "Is Your City Smarter Than a Beaver" by Heidi Perryman.