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  • Buckle up, everyone.

  • Because I just learned something weird, and now you all need to know it, too.

  • I was on a call the other day with a woman named Emily Fairfax.

  • And she knows a lot about beavers.

  • Yes, beavers.

  • And at one point, she just casually mentions,

  • "A weird period of beaver relocation in the 40s where we dropped them out of airplanes."

  • I'm sorry. What?

  • "There's this absolutely absurd video."

  • "You can find it on YouTube from Idaho Fish and Game."

  • "Now into the air, and down, they swing."

  • "The box opens, and a most unusual and novel trip ends for Mr. Beaver."

  • Okay, the method is super questionable.

  • But the Idaho Department of Fish and Game did this to relocate 76 beavers away from humans and into a remote location where there were no roads.

  • Because beavers build dams, structures that completely alter the landscape.

  • But now, research has found that beavers and their dams do so much more than flood the forest.

  • As the planet continues to warm they might also be vital in cooling parts of it down.

  • So when beavers move into a stream, their very first order of business is to build that dam to start making a little bit of a safe habitat for themselves.

  • They start with some logs or stones to secure the structure.

  • After that, they'll keep piling sticks, stones, and mud over and over again until water starts to pool behind it.

  • As flowing water pushes against the dam, it begins to carve out a deep pool, which is great for the beaver.

  • Because on land, "they're pretty unfortunately awkward."

  • But once they get into the water, that's where they really shine and excel.

  • But, it's also ideal for other species.

  • Because deeper water tends to be much cooler than water at the surface.

  • So if you're a fish and it's a really hot day, you can go down into one of these deep pools,

  • and just hunker down at the bottom, where the water is coolest and has the least sunlight affecting it.

  • The dam also forces circulation.

  • As water hits the dam, some of it is forced into the soil, where it mixes with cold ground water before resurfacing.

  • As a result, one study found that water near beaver dams is up to 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2.3 degrees Celsius) cooler than water elsewhere.

  • This comfortable little pond is the first defense against predators.

  • But beavers will also dig out canals into the surrounding land, which function as a small highway system for them.

  • All this tampering with the stream spreads the water around the area.

  • As that water evaporates, the water vapor chills the air.

  • At one of my sites in central California, I went to visit on a particularly hot day.

  • It was 107 Fahrenheit (42 Celsius).

  • And then I get into the complex and I hold up the temperature probe and I'm like wow it's 91 (33 Celsius).

  • We lost almost 15 degrees of air temperature just going into this beaver complex.

  • The area becomes a wetland ecosystem, and on first glance, it's a total mess with branches, plants, and water everywhere.

  • And that's a good thing.

  • A river or a riverscape should be very complex, very messy.

  • And it's that complexity that makes them so resilient to climate change and all sorts of other disturbances.

  • And that resiliency is increasingly important.

  • In the summer of 2022, heatwaves and fires plagued parts of Europe and the US.

  • As the climate crisis worsens, we can expect these events to increase.

  • Beavers, it turns out, might be able to help.

  • Because these wetland ecosystems are especially important in areas that are prone to fire or drought.

  • Dams slow water down and allow it to seep deep into the Earth, which provides a source of groundwater for humans.

  • It also keeps the surrounding land wet, and wetter land is less likely to burn.

  • This is an image from Idaho in 2018 when 65,000 acres were scorched by wildfire.

  • This green patch in the middle is a wetland created by a beaver dam.

  • Emily and a colleague studied the effects of this in 2020 and found repeated evidence that beaver dams create firebreaks.

  • Providing a safe place for animals to go when wildfires break out.

  • That was the first study in the scientific literature that said beaver ponds are too wet to burn in many cases.

  • Beavers have had bad PR.

  • They're often considered annoying pests because wetland creation is so messy.

  • When a dam is built in the wrong place, it can flood roadways or homes.

  • And previously, the solution was extermination.

  • But that seems to be changing.

  • California, for example, just passed a bill that requires state sponsored beaver-relocation.

  • Don't worry, they won't be dropping them out of planes.

  • What we're learning is that beavers do some of the best engineer work for climate resiliency.

  • We just have to let them.

  • We've got to let go of a little bit of control.

  • Especially once a beaver starts building like what was a pretty cute little stream becomes this super wild, messy wetland.

  • Like, that's good.

  • Remember that that is good.

  • We want it to be messy.

Buckle up, everyone.

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B1 Vox beaver water dam idaho messy

Why beavers matter as the planet heats up

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    林宜悉 posted on 2022/11/17
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