Did you know that beavers can play a critical role in solving the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change?
Belonging to the order of rodents along with mice and rats, these mammals are often viewed as pests or nuisances due to the dams and lodges they construct from trees, which can cause flooding in residential areas.
But there is so much more to their story.
The role beavers play in American history
A new book from Leila Philip, Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America, tells how beavers play a prominent role in America’s history and future. From the fur trade and western expansion to today’s “beaver believers,” Philip expertly crafts a narrative of these furry creatures’ place in the lives of humans across hundreds of years.
Perhaps her most poignant idea shows how human and beaver activity is closely linked: we both modify our environments to suit our individualized needs. However, one can argue that the side effects of human infrastructure do not help our climate or biodiversity crises as those from beaver-build infrastructure does.
Successful rewilding in Europe
Beavers have a similar history in Europe, having been nearly eradicated from the continent 500 years ago and entirely eradicated from the British Isles due to the fur trade and human-beaver conflict. Over the last century, their reintroduction has been a marked success in continental Europe and is slowly progressing in Great Britain.
Like in North America, beavers are helping fight climate change and protect biodiversity in places where they have been reintroduced.
Those pesky dams are what make beavers so important
While their dams can create unwanted flooding for those who live within the vicinity of a beaver family, it's precisely these constructed wetlands that are beneficial to the environment.
Marshes and ponds created by beavers increase water quality and provide habitat for multiple species — from aquatic to avian! These recharge groundwater supplies can prevent streams from going dry during droughts and decrease water temperature in the face of warming atmospheric temperatures to provide safe spawning grounds for fish.