The Beavers Are Coming For You

My wife and I saw these beavers self-isolating, near Yellowknife, Canada. Not sure about their satellite coverage, though…had to be pretty bad.

WE’RE SAVED! The beavers are coming back.

Mind you, they are planning revenge.

Sure, they will even-out climate change, and stop forest fires. But as they huddle inside their tents of twigs, chortling while they are making their plans, they know the price we will have to pay: a water-soaked continent where all our cars have to have pontoons and our dogs and cats need flotation devices.

This is the way it was, in fact, before Europeans settled North America. Back in the day, as many as 400 million beavers inhabited an area that covered about 60% of the continent with marshes and ponds.

People today have no idea of what the stream and river ecosystems were like when Europeans first came to North America, because today those primordial ponds are gone. Recreational campers think it is normal to park beside a river. In the old days, that same space would be a beaver bog. If the beavers come back, RVs would have to be converted to riverboats, and their GPS systems would be plotting winding routes around a pond patchwork.

Now that beaver fur is no longer in vogue, beavers are bouncing back from the trapping that went on in the 1800’s, and are rebuilding those hundreds of thousands of beaver ponds.

Their numbers have built to about 20 million now, and their plans are already clashing with human desires. The city of Calgary has to put mesh wire around its tree trunks. Beavers are found checking out the grounds of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. In Martinez California a pair of beavers build a damn on the Alhambra River that was at one time 30 feet wide and 6 feet high, chewing down $9-million in tree-side landscaping to do it.

But they don’t need trees. If trees aren’t around, beavers will use moss, mud and shrubs to build their dams. They are opportunistic little engineers.

Generally, beaver dams can be good news. Beaver ponds increase wildlife numbers, slow down the flow of water and prevent flooding, and store water against dry spells. In the days when beaver ponds blanketed North America, swings in climate extremes would have been “dampened” by the effects of pond water trapping heat and releasing it slowly. Moisture levels would have been higher, with the pondwater evaporating into the atmosphere are causing more rain.

I once lived on a spit of land surrounded by a rushing river. Then the beavers came. The river widened. My land shrank. They didn’t seem to care. They kept building.

I asked the Department of Natural Resources what I should do. After much hemming and hawing, the official suggested that I put spotlights on my riverbank…they don’t like light at night. Spotlights! I had 3,000 feet of riverbank. If a spotlight could cover 30 feet of bank, I would still need 100 of them! At $30 each, that’s $3,000! Not counting the price of the electricity. Even in Canada, that would be a deal-breaker. And I just knew that the first thing the beavers would do, would be to chew down the trees with the spotlights. They’re not stupid! I sold my house.

In fact, they’re pretty smart. Those homes they make are big enough to hold people. The water inside is warm and the dome provides insulation, so they get central sauna. If there is a food source far away, they make beaver-sized canals to get to it. I mean, why walk? They’re pretty big animals, after all: they’re as big as a human child. And they are always attentive to the sound of running water; they patch their dams right away, no need to call the plumber. If you put a recording of running water in the woods near their dam, they will come along and build another dam around the recording. OK, maybe they don’t have super-intelligence. But from their point of view, why take a chance? If you hear water, fix it.

But it’s not all happy outcomes.

Experts for example are panicking about their impact on the arctic. Satellite imagery shows that beavers have begun to move up into the tundra due to global warming. The water in their ponds transfers heat to the ground. This thaws the permafrost and releases the greenhouse gases stories inside. Bit of a nuisance.

However, beavers are only ‘bad’ when they interfere with a human’s use of the land…which is probably easily as bad as what the beaver wants to do.

Maybe you could train them to build Theme Parks instead of patchwork ponds. You could name the parks after the function they perform. Maybe one is “California Forest-Fire Obstruction Park”. Or “Who Needs The Hoover Dam When We Have A Bijillion Beavers Park”. Lots of uses.

Overall, the biggest use is an answer to this question: do you want to even out global warming?

You import beavers, that’s how you even out global warming.

And get your boots on. They’re coming.

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Barry Gander

I'm a Canadian from Connecticut, so 2 strikes against me. I'm a top writer in 5 fields, & I love finding the Meaning under the passing headlines.