Beaver & Climate Change Adaptation in North America: A Simple, Cost-Effective Strategy

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  March 2012:

Beaver & Climate Change Adaptation in North America:  A Simple, Cost-Effective Strategy
by Bryan Bird,  WildEarth Guardians,  Mary O’Brien,  Grand Canyon Trust,  & Mike Petersen,  The Lands Council

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“The reestablishment of American beaver and  its habitat  is a viable and cost-effective climate change adaptation strategy,” begins Beaver & Climate Change Adaptation in North America.  “Due to the unique hydrological engineering accomplished by dam-building beaver,  support and reestablishment of beaver constitute an important climate change adaptation tool in the United States.”

The implied premise is that encouraging beaver might help to mitigate the effects of global warming,  even if there is never a national consensus on the need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. This is a tempting hypothesis.  Certainly more beaver could help to conserve water and other wildlife in regions of intensified drought. Water impoundment by beaver dams also in itself helps to cool and stabilize the surrounding micro-climates.  As diagrams demonstrate, most of North America was beaver habitat as recently as 300 years ago.  Beaver need little more help in repopulating most of their former range than a respite from fur trappers,  who currently kill about 125,000 beaver per year in the U.S.,  and to be tolerated by the owners of flooded property,  whose complaints result in USDA Wildlife Services killing a recent average of 23,000 beaver per year.

Unfortunately,  climate change deniers are probably no more likely to accept more beaver than they are to accept that global warming is occurring.  But even if climate change deniers were more receptive to the prescriptions of co-authors Bryan Bird,  Mary O’Brien,  and Mike Petersen than to those of Al Gore,  Beaver & Climate Change Adaptation in North America does not really support the premise of their opening sentence.   Indeed,  Bird,  O’Brien, and Petersen barely discuss global warming.  Greenhouse gases get only transient mentions.

Most of Beaver & Climate Change Adaptation in North America, in the words of the authors,  “demonstrates the critical roles beaver play in ecosystem structure and function.”  Yet these arguments were already widely recognized more than a century ago,  when beaver restoration projects began.  What is lacking from Beaver & Climate Change Adaptation in North America is a coherent argument that shows how beaver restoration might stack up as a climate change mitigation strategy in comparison to the Kyoto treaty that the U.S. never signed,  the cap-and-trade carbon emission proposals that have never cleared Congress,  and going vegetarian.          –Merritt Clifton

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