The World Around Us:

In Appreciation of Nature’s Best Engineers – The Beaver

New York’s state mammal, the beaver, seems to be receiving some long due recognition in recent years; not only here in New York, but throughout the country and even the world. Why the sudden admiration? It has everything to do with their engineering skills, and climate change.

Beavers, our mighty eco-engineers

Aside from humans, beavers are the only living being on the planet that can drastically alter their environment. While there’s no denying that as beavers create and alter their habitats it can have devastating consequences for some, many others have come to realize that these changes are extraordinary gifts for wildlife and plants.

As climate change encroaches upon us, bringing with it erosion, flooding, droughts, warmer water temperatures, and wildfires, scientists have learned that the presence of beavers can significantly combat many of the climate issues facing us today.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that of the beaver’s dam which slows erosion by slowing the water pressure. Less erosion means more vegetation and less flooding. A study in Canada found that where beavers were present, the riparian zone, (the area between land and water) had an increase in herbaceous plants of 33%. A huge benefit for all wildlife.

Another discovery, from a study in the state of Washington, found that beaver dams actually recharged the aquifer enabling the stream systems to hold more water. Recharging the deep aquifers has not only lowered water temperatures, but has also prevented streams from drying up during droughts and hot summer months.

Furthermore, these new and replenished streams, along with the underground irrigation systems that beavers create, have been able to act as fire barriers during wildfires out west.

Beaver dams naturally filter out pollutants in the stream while lowering the water pressure. The lower water pressure enables nutrients to enter the water causing the water downstream from the dam to be not only cooler from the recharged aquifers but also cleaner and healthier.

But as with many animals in our environment, they are just interesting! They mate for life, but can adjust to a new partner if something kills one — frequently trapping (still legal) and car accidents. Their average lifespan is 10 to 12 years if allowed to live that long, they breed once yearly with 2 to 7 kits in a litter, weigh anywhere from 26 to 65 pounds, eat up to a ton of bark in the winter time, and can hold their breath as long as 15 minutes under water! The expression busy as a beaver certainly is well founded.

So as we combat erosion, flooding, droughts, wildfires, rising water temperatures, and pollution, isn’t it wonderful to know that our mighty eco-engineer, the beaver, is hard at work doing the same?

New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XLIII, Spring 2024.