The Importance of Beavers to the Ecosystem and Their Role as Nature’s Firefighters

Recently, heatwave after heatwave have brought wildfires to certain parts of the world, like North America and the West Coast of the US. It’s one of the scariest impacts of climate change since the Earth’s temperature continues to rise. If this goes on, the world must prepare for solutions to prevent the deadly situation at all costs. There are already existing ways to extinguish wildfire and recovery methods. But what’s important is finding a plan to avoid it; interestingly, nature is still the answer.

Photo: Pexels/Denitsa Kireva

Researchers conducted a study regarding beavers and the species’ significance to the ecosystem. Apparently, the dams they construct aren’t just there to serve as beaver lodges — it builds a fireproof area for plants and animals. The engineering works of a beaver are scientifically proven, and recent studies supported the claims. Environmental scientist Emily Fairfax led the research. Along with her colleague Andrew Whittle, they based their study according to Joe Wheaton’s analysis of beaver engineering.

Photo: PxHere

“It’s really not complicated: water doesn’t burn,” explains Joe Wheaton, a geomorphologist at Utah State University. “Emily’s study couldn’t be more timely. This points toward the importance of nature-based solutions and natural infrastructure and gives us the science to back it up,” he added. The geomorphologist was not involved with the research, but he has witnessed the benefits of a beaver lodge. Based on the Sharp Fires in Idaho in 2018, he still saw a lush green area, a beaver wetland that survived the wildfire.

In Fairfax’s study, they observed major wildfires from five US states which happened since 2000. They chose California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming. The team searched the areas with dams and beaver ponds using satellite images. It is evident that beavers did an excellent job maintaining the areas because satellite images showed lush green spaces. Moreover, part of the study analyzes plant growth within the site before and after wildfires, and the plants appear to be lively green. More surprisingly, vegetation was three times less impacted by fire than those without nearby dams.

Photo: Youtube/CBS Mornings

The secret to fireproofing those areas is to keep the plants green and hydrated, since dry and crispy plants are more prone to igniting a fire. For this reason, areas protected by beavers have maintained a safe ecosystem for other animals. From amphibians to small mammals, each animal was safe from the destructive fire, and Fairfax calls it refugia. The researcher also mentioned, “If you have a beaver wetland, your cows can take advantage of that refuge and fare better during wildfire than if you had to pack them out on trailers.”

Photo: Youtube/CBS Mornings

Beavers are indeed significant to the ecosystem, and fireproofing lands aren’t their only specialty. Turns out that engineering mammals can filter out water pollution, provide benefits to salmon, prevent floods, and conceal carbon. The benefits people get from beavers tend to be overlooked — missing out on the fact that wildfire could be easily contained with the flat-tailed mammals. This study by Emily Fairfax was published in the online journal Ecological Applications. Their team also explained their findings in an interview with CBS Mornings, which you watch in the video below.

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