As the climate warms, beaver dams could help the arid West store water and lock up carbon. Doesn’t sound like the work of a “pest” to me.

Imagine you’re sailing across the Atlantic 400 years ago as a British colonist headed to the New World. Being accustomed to the cities, villages, and managed landscapes of early 17th-century England, you undoubtedly wonder what awaits you in the unspoiled, primeval terrain of North America. With what sort of fauna will you soon be sharing space? Will they be gentle or ferocious? Adorable or terrifying?

And then as you step off the ship, you find a lush, fertile land that appears to be overrun by . . . beavers. Literally hundreds of millions of them, all busily doing their beaver thing: cutting and collecting wood, damming creeks and streams and rivers, constructing their architecturally elaborate lodges, responding to an industrious instinct that stretches back millions of years. Seeing their handiwork in every waterway you encounter, you may be forgiven for thinking that these large aquatic rodents are your new national animal, whether they have your vote or not.

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