Many experts are hoping to utilize a “dam good” solution to deal with the extreme problem of wildfires and droughts currently plaguing the western half of the U.S.
Researchers out of Utah and California are planning to bring back beavers into parts of the two states in the hope that they shift water around to the various drought-parched regions of the area by building their dams. The researchers stated to CBS News that beaver dams block stream and river water that can be stored and later deposited into the ground, which will also assist in creating a barrier against wildfire.
“A lot of the water in California is not from snowmelt. It’s from the groundwater and these beavers are recharging it for us,” explained Emily Fairfax, a professor at California State University, to CBS News. “They are sort of depositing water into the bank that we take out at a later date.”
“Beavers move in here and they slow this water down,” continued the professor. “A lot of it goes into recharging the groundwater and that’s what we’re pumping for irrigation. That’s what we use for our food. That’s what we use for our lawns.”
Beaver damns, which are normally built out of mud and sticks, stop rainwater and snowmelt from quickly draining away downstream. Additionally, the dams themselves work as both a natural fire break in the terrain and a natural reservoir that hold water that then seeps out into the surrounding land as a means to protect the land by making it more resistant to fire and droughts.
As pointed out by CBS, on beaver dam in Idaho had created the only vibrantly lush area that remained in a vast acreage of land that had been burnt by the 2018 Sharps fire. Images of another damn out of Atascadero, California, which were taken by the outlet, highlight the area around the beaver damn as flush with water and vibrant plant life, the only such area for multiple miles around.
Beavers have been historically been hunted to near-extinction in the Western half of the United States by the early 1900s. The fur trade spread like crazy in California throughout the 1800s, even before the area went through its Gold Rush, but was over by the end of the century because of the massive drop in the beaver population. “The beaver of our mountain districts has been entirely exterminated and there are but a few hundred survivors to be found along the Sacramento, Colorado and San Joaquin Rivers,” explained one zoologist, Harold Bryant, in an article in the 1915 California Fish and Game Journal.
Many beavers are being moved into the area from lands in which the rodent is considered a nuisance. Researchers for Utah State University plan to trap the animals and take them into a lab to be checked for injuries, weighed, and then tagged with tracking chips for research purposes. Once they discover an area heavily susceptible to droughts or wildfires, they will move the beavers into the habitat in the hopes they start a colony. Researchers have also attempted to insert beaver damn analogs, or “starter dams,” in hopes of encouraging the beavers to get started. Well over 1,000 dams have already been set up.
“It’s kind of a win-win,” expressed one researcher at Utah State’s Beaver Ecology and Relocation Center, Nick Bouwes. “We deal with the nuisance problem at the same time trying to use an animal that’s incredibly good at restoring streams and putting them to work.”