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Leave It to Beavers?

Nature's water engineers can restore river channels.

Beavertree Photo by Don Shall

Beavers, nature's water engineers, can do the work of bulldozers for free.

Photo by Don Shall

It can cost millions of dollars to restore a river channel with artificial ponds and bulldozers. Some ecologists recommend turning to beavers, nature’s water engineers, who will do that work for free.

Beavers, which were once common across North America, can live happily in nearly any freshwater habitat. But early settlers trapped and killed huge numbers of beavers, which were prized for their fur and considered a nuisance by farmers.

Ecologists working in the Feather River watershed have unearthed evidence of beaver activity dating back more than 1,000 years. They say the animals were a natural part of the watershed, and restoration techniques like “pond and plug” resemble beaver dams, which clean up river water by trapping silt and organic material.

Dr. Heidi Perryman, president of the beaver advocacy group Worth A Dam, in Martinez, Calif., says beaver dams create habitat for fish and the insects they feed on. And when beavers chomp on trees, that stimulates dense regrowth, creating vegetation that’s appealing to birds.

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