Researchers in California and Utah are reintroducing beavers to parts of the two states in the hope that they will supply water to drought-parched regions by building dams. The researchers told CBS News that dams block river and stream water that can be stored and eventually deposited into the ground, which will also help create a barrier against fires.
“A lot of the water in California is not from snowmelt. It’s from the groundwater and these beavers are recharging it for us,” California State University professor Emily Fairfax told 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,” Fairfax added. “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 dams, constructed out of sticks and mud, prevent rainwater and snowmelt from draining downstream. But the dams also work as both a natural fire break and a reservoir that stores water that slowly spreads out into the surrounding land to create a landscape much more resistant to droughts and fires.
One such dam in Idaho, highlighted by CBS, was the only lush area that remained among acres of land scorched by the Sharps fire in 2018. Video of another dam in Atescadero, California, taken by the outlet, shows the area around the beaver dam lush with water and plant life, the only such ecosystem for miles around.
Beavers had been hunted to near-extinction in the West by the early 1900s. The fur trade erupted in California in the early 1800s, even before the California Gold Rush, but was over by the end of the century because the beaver population had so declined. “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,” zoologist Harold Bryant wrote in the California Fish and Game Journal in 1915.
Beavers are being relocated from lands where they are considered nuisances. Researchers from Utah State University trap the rodents and take them to a lab where they are weighed, checked for injuries, and implanted with tracking chips for research purposes. Once they find an area susceptible to droughts or wildfires, they relocate the beavers to a habitat where they hope they will start a colony. Researchers have also taken to building beaver dam analogs, or “starter dams,” to encourage the process. More than 1,000 dams have already been resettled.
“It’s kind of a win-win,” said Nick Bouwes, a researcher at Utah State’s Beaver Ecology and Relocation Center. “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.”
The novel solution comes as the southwest has been dealing with a rash of droughts. Earlier this month, the federal government imposed water restrictions on Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico because of low water levels in the Colorado River, as The Daily Wire reported.