New research reveals that beavers, once considered a nuisance, could actually help farmers and fisherman maintain healthy water supplies during the California drought, reports Maria Finn, in “Leave It To Beavers.” The story is online today with our media partner onEarth.
“Salmon spend their first one to two years in freshwater before heading to the sea,” writes Finn. “They return as adults to lay eggs. During these times, they require cold, slow water and protective covering, which coastal rainforests in California once provided. Heavy logging in the late 19th century destroyed much of this habitat, which was then converted into farms, vineyards, and residential areas. Beavers, which were almost hunted to extinction in California during the 1800s, can help restore this watery habitat, especially in drought conditions.”
Finn reports on findings that show salmon are adept at crossing beaver dams, contrary to previous assumptions, and that river restorations that use beaver dams more than doubled the production of salmon over six years. In addition, the research, led by Michael M. Pollock, an ecosystems analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows that by slowing a river’s flow, beaver dams can raise the water table under the land, helping farmers and ranchers.
Ranchers tell Finn that they are saving money thanks to beavers. “With beavers on the land, the water tables are higher, and we’ve had a 10 to 15 percent reduction in pumping costs,” said Garreth Plank, a cattle rancher on the Scott River, who also boasts 76,000 Coho fingerling, or very young fish, and 35,000 Chinook fingerling in the rivers on his property.
The beaver still finds opponents on farms, particularly the Central Valley, where their dams can interfere with complicated and extensive water infrastructure. Commercial and recreational salmon fishing brings in $1.5 billion a year, while agriculture earns $42.6 billion annually in California.