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home : columns : columns November 25, 2015

9/10/2013 12:12:00 PM
In defense of the beaver
Oh, Grandma, what big teeth you have! The natural tools of the Oregon beaver.  photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Oh, Grandma, what big teeth you have! The natural tools of the Oregon beaver. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson

Great paper last week! Lots of stuff to digest; letters-to-the-editor, Lady Outlaws volleyball, the shooting on Highway 20, the unfortunate death of one of our dear old pals - to the story on page 15 about high school kids restoring the riparian along the banks of Bear Creek down by Medford, where the writer claims our beaver is a "vandal."

That one really yanked my chain!

Since when is our native Oregon beaver a "vandal?" Just because it was doing what nature designed it to do: Chew wood, fall trees, build dams, back up water; does that make it a "vandal?" Not on your life! Sure, it may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time as far as Jim Hutchins is concerned, but can a beaver sort out politics and time and money that went into that wonderful riparian recovery project? Of course not. Beaver do what they have to do, and that's make a livin', just like the rest of us.

The North American beaver, (Castor canadensis) is our State Mammal; Oregon is known as "The Beaver State." Remember? For that reason alone it deserves a lot of respect.

ODFW's biologist Mark Vargas doesn't help matters any with his diatribe: "Beavers are a nuisance problem and they cause grief with people wherever they go." That is NOT SO. Unfortunately, ODFW seems to look at the short-haul when it comes to wildlife. Deer are good because they generate revenue when people buy a license to kill them. (In Sisters deer eat what people offer them in gardens and flower pots, does that make them vandals?) I guess ODFW sees beaver only as something to be trapped, killed, and the revenue gained from selling their hides - and revenue from people buying a trapping license to do so.

A beaver, whether anyone wants to take the time to understand it or not, is the most important member of our wildlife community in restoring a water table. A beaver dam backs up water, which then seeks a level that makes it a reservoir for the dry times. If only for that reason the Oregon beaver should not only be tolerated, but respected.

Like every member of our wildlife community, the beaver has its place and helps to develop natural balance within its ecosystem.

The tag line on the beaver story says it all, "... We've got more trees than that sucker can take." Exactly! The beaver is removing the surplus. While the recovery crew did wondrous work in rehabilitating the riparian area, they overdid it. They invited that beaver (or two) to come in and do what beavers do, utilize the surplus for their own benefit.

Our state was built on the sacrifices of our beaver. They were trapped by the millions for fur hats to satisfy the fashion of the time. Yes, beavers' fur was used somewhat for things we needed (like coats), but most of the fur went into hats, hats that had nothing to do with keeping one's head and ears warm, hats that just "looked good."

One of our famous early Oregon statesmen told a trapper to get his buddies and go out and kill every beaver they could find, so the competition wouldn't find any to make money with. I wonder who the "vandals" were in that situation...

Beavers are more than animals with flat tails and money-making fur. Several Native American people honored the beaver as the "sacred center" of the land because beaver create rich, aquatic habitat for wildlife; including fish, mammals, turtles, frogs, birds, insects and ducks, which then interacted to maintain a healthy ecosystems and provide food for people.

Beavers are built to collect and eat vegetation for a livelihood and to dam streams in shallow valleys. That's what helps to create flooded areas that become productive wetlands. These "cradles of life" support and enhance biodiversity that has been said to rival a tropical rain forest. Almost half of endangered and threatened species in North America rely upon wetlands, and are recognized as the world's most valuable land-based ecosystem. Wetlands also act as space to store flood waters, And the beaver is the key.

Beavers rarely overpopulate (unlike us) because they breed only once a year, and are limited to a small fraction of the landscape that is close to waterways. Trapping is, unfortunately, the most common source of mortality.

The beaver is not consciously thinking that what it is doing is an act of "vandalism." I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Said beaver was just tryin' to make a livin', like the rest of us.

And let us not forget the mascot and motto of Oregon State University: "Go Beavers!"

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