Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Idaho's innovation in illustrating the vital role beavers play in ecosystems

Creativity can be seen in all sorts of endeavors.  Like changing perceptions of beavers and the critical role they play in the ecosystem, emphasizing the value of beaver as a watershed management tool.

In the 1940’s Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game embarked on an effort both large in scale and kooky in method.

Finding long, dusty overland trips too hard on the beavers, the department instead packed pairs of the animals into crates, loaded them onto airplanes bound for drought-stricken corners of the state, and dropped them by parachute.  (The crates were rigged to open on impact.) 

The endeavor was apparently a success: a 1950 report notes that of the 76 beavers airdropped in the fall of 1948, only one fell to its death; the others began building dams and homes and founding colonies, which can grow as large as a dozen or so beavers.

Idaho’s strategy has since been validated by dozens of scientific studies illustrating the vital role beavers play in ecosystems.  Their dams create ponds and wetlands that retain rainwater and snowmelt, and while beaver ponds themselves are shallow little affairs, research has shown that they help preserve groundwater, allowing vegetation and trees to flourish and increasing biodiversity.   

According to one study, the amount of fresh water a single colony adds to a local ecosystem each day is the equivalent of at least a once-in-200-years flood event.

Read more about one program at adopt-a-beaver-campaign

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