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Beavers could be low-tech solution to droughts

North American beaver with flat tail

The New Mexico state Senate may have recently struck upon an ideal solution to help combat droughts induced by climate change and to improve wetlands, which act as nature’s water purification system.

According to the SanteFeNewMexican, many landowners still see beavers as nuisance animals, so Sens. Bobby Gonzales (D-Taos) and Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) are requesting beaver-management plans from local agencies to restrict conflicts between property owners and the beaver population they want to utilize for water conservation.

“I’d like to see New Mexico craft an intentional beaver-management plan like Utah has,” said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program director for the Santa Fe-based nonprofit WildEarth Guardians. “It would be a solution to a lot of problems. Right now, there’s no logic to how we manage beavers.”

Fish and wildlife biologists think allowing beavers to build dams for storing valuable water and recovering defunct wetlands would be a perfect, cheap answer to an increasing problem.

However, landowners see it as disastrous for their water supply if dams restrict flow of water to their property, so they some don’t hesitate to kill beavers on sight.

Nonetheless, statewide droughts need a solution and beaver dams help create ponds, store water, infuse much needed fresh water into wetlands and aquifers, while reducing erosion and impeding floods.

According to a recent Bird study, approximately 82 percent of New Mexico’s riparian steams and tributaries flow on public land and can support healthy beaver populations.

Wildlife Services, which is an agency notorious for slaughtering birds and animals by the thousands under the guise of landowner protection, killed more than 27,000 beavers in 44 states across the nation in 2011.

Furthermore, beavers have been on the decline for years as their habitat dwindled, livestock grazing increased and from lethal trapping.

A study done in 2013 by New Mexico State University found that beavers had become “functionally extinct.” Professor Jennifer Frey explained, “They are so sparsely distributed that they are not able to perform the vital ecosystem services that would improve the health of our streams.”

The study also showed only 40 beaver dams across the entire state. Over time, the drop in beaver populations caused stream systems to decline and the disappearance of ecological benefits from their dams.

Wetland ecosystems suffered, because under normal conditions they are incredibly diverse and support a wide range of wildlife, plant and bird populations, while acting as the Earth’s kidneys by purifying water, controlling floods and adding shoreline stability.

Beavers are considered the largest rodent in North America and can weigh up to 80 pounds. They utilize their large, flat tail for swimming and smacking the water to warn of danger. They are semi-aquatic, with webbed feet and can easily swim under water.

The concept of using a natural resource like beavers as a low-tech solution for dwindling water supplies and reconstructing vital wetlands is a win-win concept that is rigorously supported by scientists, conservations, an increasing number of politicians—and it’s good for the planet.

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