The Tulalip Tribes bet big on beavers
December 5, 2018 9:16 AM   Subscribe

In western Washington, a nation looks to rodent restoration as a natural, ecological engineer.

It’s before dawn on a late August morning, the Washington sky blanched with smoke drifting from distant wildfires, and Molly Alves and David Bailey have caught a beaver.

posted by poffin boffin (19 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Man that opening scene is such a "just another typical PNW day".
posted by humboldt32 at 10:13 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


There's a beaver dam well up-valley on the joint private road my mother lives on in the Olympics -- not annoying anyone yet, and I am hoping to seed everyone with the thought that an uphill beaver pond means our shallow wells are less likely to go dry after a dry year. (Also waters forests and the streams, but people respond a lot faster to threats to indoor plumbing.) Chances are still good that an angry person will try shooting or poisoning them, but gotta try.

There's lovely engineering-and-social-engineering in beaver flow management (the best name is the Beaver Deceiver) to keep the beavers without letting them flood roads. "Beavers probably see a culvert beneath a road as a hole in an otherwise fine dam. So they try to plug the hole and a flooded road may result."

There's already pushback in the Olympics against beavers -- angry signs up on some cattle farms in the lowlands -- if anyone knows of someplace damp and cool with grazing or fencing protocols that combine cattle and beaver, I'd appreciate a link. The irony is that the scant level land in the Olympics was probably made by beaver impoundment of streams, cf. Beaver Valley Road.
posted by clew at 10:48 AM on December 5 [4 favorites]


This article is awesome, so are beavers, so are the people trying to help them out. Rodent dating services! Beaver starter kits! A special beaver lobbyist! Truly it has everything.
posted by Hypatia at 12:20 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


I just listened to a 53 minute episode on beavers from the CBC: Rethinking the Beaver: Why beavers and humans have to learn to get along.

Fabulous link, poffin_boffin.
posted by twilightlost at 12:21 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


When Europeans landed on North America’s shores, as many as 400 million beavers inhabited the continent. By 1900, three centuries of unabated trapping had converted all but 100,000 or so into fancy fur hats and other garments.

jesus

This article is awesome

Most of what High Country News publishes is worth reading. It's one of the few subscriptions I always renew.

Puget Sound salmon restoration is one of the environmental projects I'm optimistic about. The Elwha dam removals, the by-the-skin-of-its-teeth victory in Washington v. United States, all of the numerous tribal efforts to restore habitat, and the immense public popularity of increasing salmon populations all point to the problem being potentially solvable.
posted by edeezy at 1:15 PM on December 5 [2 favorites]


As an aside the opening mentions Himalayan blackberries, an invasive species introduced to the area by a eugenicist.
posted by edeezy at 1:22 PM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Burbank is the only eugenicist I'm aware of who advocated crossing human varieties instead of declaring one 'race' superior and devising schemes to isolate and purify the 'master race':
Burbank had become an international celebrity. He was so successful at breeding plants that he became interested in applying the same principles – to people.

He started selling a new book that he’d written in his catalogs, “The Training of the Human Plant.”

Burbank wrote that the crossing, elimination and refining of human strains would result in “an ultimate product that should be the finest race ever known.”

He considered the U.S. the perfect place to practice eugenics, because, at the turn of the century, there were immigrants coming from all over the world.

“Look at the material on which to draw,” Burbank wrote. “Here is the North, powerful, virile, aggressive, blended with the luxurious, ease-loving, more impetuous South.

“The union of great native mental strength, developed or undeveloped, with bodily vigor, but with inferior mind.”

Burbank’s theory of genetics was that an organism’s surroundings left an imprint that was passed on to future generations.
posted by jamjam at 2:26 PM on December 5


Weird timing, a beaver has been hanging out at the park across the street from my house for the last week or two. Cool in any context but very surprising since this is in a rowhouse neighborhood, very close to downtown. On a river but still weird.
posted by sepviva at 2:30 PM on December 5


Thanks for this awesome post. I am an urban stream ecologist who thinks beavers are the answer to most of our freshwater ecosystem problems. AMA
posted by hydropsyche at 3:53 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


Really? Tell me about beaver and cattle!
posted by clew at 4:02 PM on December 5


oh wait probably more urban than that. nevermind.
posted by clew at 4:02 PM on December 5


A beaver is released along a stretch of river in northern Washington that has been prepped with a beaver dam starter kit.

"beaver dam starter kit"

$79.95 second day free delivery with a purchase of a... oh nevermind...

 
posted by sammyo at 4:58 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


> AMA

Oh, if you insist . . .

1. The article mentions maybe 400 million beaver in North America in (say) 1492, reduced to 100,000 by 1900. Any idea how many there are today?

2. After living in the Kansas City area for like 20 years, about year ago I started kayaking and spend some time kayaking up an down the Missouri and Kansas Rivers through the metro area. I was slightly astonished to discover how many beaver lived up and down the banks of these rivers, right smack in the middle of a metro area of 2 million people. The average person has no idea they even exist. So question--any idea how many beaver live in urban areas of the U.S., or more generally, how common they are in urban areas of North America?

3. What kind of ecosystem problems do beaver solve in urban areas, and any success stories you can point to?

4. How do you work around or deal with the problems that beaver do cause in more populated area. Interestingly, my own first experience with beaver is when my dad got a permit from the county and "took care of" a family of beaver that lived on a stream on a piece of property we bought. I'm sure that was the usual way of dealing with beaver in populated areas 40-50 years ago and, it sounds like, in many or even most populated areas today. Reason was that they would either cut down or just kill (by stripping the bark from) just about any tree you would plant or want to preserve. So . . . there must be better ways of dealing with this problem. What are they?
posted by flug at 5:10 PM on December 5


It's a great article, and cute photos. As it touches on, some of the east side tribes have had beaver reintroduction programs for a fair while, partly because the rules have tended to be looser on the east side but also because some of the tribes have been very assertive about their sovereignty in relation to species of cultural importance (eg, salmon, beaver). The state and federal agencies tend to be very cautious about species reintroductions, but some of the tribes have been willing to push fast and go it alone with a lot of success.

As the article notes, BDAs are kind of the flavor of the moment because they are so cheap and easy to install. States are starting to regulate them more tightly to ensure they are used only where appropriate, so there are more regulatory steps now than even just a year ago. They make for really photogenic projects, though -- check out this video of a BDA project in the Okanogan highlands, for example.

How do you work around or deal with the problems that beaver do cause in more populated area.

Ideally you set back anthropogenic development and allow for naturally-expansive floodplains and wetlands, but you can also engineer around beavers to a certain extent (like the beaver deceiver mentioned above). The reality, unfortunately, is that beavers are not very compatible with a lot of our current built environment (eg, no one wants their subdivision turned back into a wetland complex) so obviously there is a lot of removal of "problem" beavers via relocation or killing.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:38 PM on December 5 [2 favorites]


First Nations in B.C. are leading the way for resuming harvesting of pinnipeds.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:49 PM on December 5


> 400 million beaver in North America . . . reduced to 100,000 by 1900

Related to this, one story I like to tell about Missouri is how we managed to reduce the deer herd in the state from over half a million to about 400 (!) individuals in the century 1825 to 1925. That's right on the verge of being completely annihilated in just 100 years.

Starting in the 1920s and 30s, a concerted effort was made the protect and foster deer. End result is that today the state's deer herd is about a large as it ever was historically. Current population is somewhere over 800,000. Historical deer population graph here, history outline here.

That result happened because of changes in law, culture, habitat--including management of habitat on private land, which makes up the vast majority of land in the state, but also the establishment of a statewide system of conservation areas--regulation of hunting (both stopping and allowing it being vitally important at different points), and a lot of other factors outlined in that article.

Point is, it is possible in some circumstances to rebuild natural populations. I can tell you that this type of work in Missouri has very broad bipartisan support, at least in its essential outlines. Not many things you can say that about!
posted by flug at 7:16 PM on December 5


Beavers are the best :3 I got on a beaver kick after seeing a facebyvideo about a rescued beaver, now raised indoors, named Justin Beaver.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:40 AM on December 6


Love beavers. Around where I am, there doesn't seem to be much beaver-human conflict that I know of. Seems like just about every pond of decent size has a beaver lodge tucked away somewhere, and the White Mountains are full of shallow, stumpy ponds with lots of activity evidenced in the form of chewed trees, dams, and lodges. People are excited when they manage to actually see a beaver beavering about. Beavers seem to be doing reasonably OK here in New England, at least I sure hope so.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:32 AM on December 6


Tell me about beaver and cattle!
Of course your cattle are fenced out of streams and wetlands so of course they aren't interacting. right?

1. The article mentions maybe 400 million beaver in North America in (say) 1492, reduced to 100,000 by 1900. Any idea how many there are today?

Definitely in the tens of millions but probably not in the 100s of millions. Sorry. Best I can estimate.

2. After living in the Kansas City area for like 20 years, about year ago I started kayaking and spend some time kayaking up an down the Missouri and Kansas Rivers through the metro area. I was slightly astonished to discover how many beaver lived up and down the banks of these rivers, right smack in the middle of a metro area of 2 million people. The average person has no idea they even exist. So question--any idea how many beaver live in urban areas of the U.S., or more generally, how common they are in urban areas of North America?

From all reports that I know of, they are in every urban area in their historic range (so everywhere but south Florida and some of the very driest parts of the southwest)

3. What kind of ecosystem problems do beaver solve in urban areas, and any success stories you can point to?

All of our streams used to be systems of beaver ponds, so at their most basic, they are restoring those systems to pre-European hydrology, in the process reducing urban storm flows and sediment transport. Beaver wetlands create better conditions for microbial processes that remove nitrogen and labile (easily used) organic molecules (i.e., poop) from the stream system by sending it back to the atmosphere and sequester recalcitrant (less easily used) organic molecules and heavy metals in the sediment where they can be stored for a long time. They also create ideal habitats for wetland plants, amphibians, birds, and dragonflies.
Martinez, CA is pretty famous for this.
Here's some info from one of the groups I work with in Atlanta.

4. How do you work around or deal with the problems that beaver do cause in more populated area. Interestingly, my own first experience with beaver is when my dad got a permit from the county and "took care of" a family of beaver that lived on a stream on a piece of property we bought. I'm sure that was the usual way of dealing with beaver in populated areas 40-50 years ago and, it sounds like, in many or even most populated areas today. Reason was that they would either cut down or just kill (by stripping the bark from) just about any tree you would plant or want to preserve. So . . . there must be better ways of dealing with this problem. What are they?

Beavers eat trees and wetland plants as a natural part of stream ecosystems in North America. At the decadal scale, left alone, community succession of vegetation naturally deals with this problem: the beavers will eat all the available vegetation and leave to go find more food, and then the pond will slowly fill in and become first a wetland, then a field, and then a riparian forest again. So the first step is just getting used to that idea that this is a natural normal thing that is happening.

You can put chicken wire around trees that you really want to protect (but they may or may not still manage to chew the tree through the chicken wire). The folks I work with in Atlanta have compensated property owners for trees that got eaten, but they also tell them that if they replant their trees, they will probably still get eaten. Besides chicken wire, you can plant your trees farther uphill (beavers overwhelmingly prefer swimming to walking) and you can plant less palatable species--they are not big fans of thick barked conifers like pines, but those trees also don't generally grow well in wet places anyway.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:35 AM on December 6 [4 favorites]


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