Canada’s national animal, the beaver is ubiquitous to North America, but did you know how much good they do for our environment?
Close your eyes and picture a healthy stream. Perhaps you imagine a crystalline, racing creek, its course narrow enough to leap across. It’s a lovely picture, fit for a fly-fishing magazine. But it’s missing one of the most crucial ingredients in a healthy watershed: beavers. By felling trees and building dams, beavers—endowed with sharp teeth, webbed feet, and rudderlike tails—capture water to expand their aquatic domains. When European colonists arrived in North America, they found a land puddled by as many as 400 million of the rodents ( Castor canadensis ). An estimated 250 million beaver ponds once interrupted North America’s waterways, turning free-flowing creeks into fertile wetlands that supported creatures from salmon to moose. But the good times didn’t last. Beginning in the early 1600s, fur trappers pillaged the continent’s streams and shipped millions of pelts to Europe for felting into fashionable hats. Not until the 20th century did conservationists begin to help beavers recover, a task that often required creativity. In 1948, for instance, biologists packed 76 beavers into crates and parachuted them into the Idaho backcountry (all but one survived the drop). These days, as many as 15 million […]