Let beavers in
Garfield County commissioners are suspicious of environmentalists. They seem to believe that people who are on the side of ecosystems forests, endangered species, wildlife, fragile deserts are the natural enemies of ranchers and other rural interests.
And it's that suspicion that led the commissioners to refuse the efforts of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to restore beavers to historical beaver habitat in the mountainous areas of the county.
That's unfortunate, since beavers are, as one DWR official described them, "great riparian managers." The industrious animals build dams, create ponds and lively meadows. They improve wildlife habitat and, at the same time, increase the watershed's capacity to retain runoff and release the overflow when streams are high in the spring and humans downstream need it most.
The commissioners are letting their tendency to distrust "environmentalists" get in the way of improving the landscapes of their county and the very livelihoods of the ranchers and others who live there and depend on the health of the land the ecosystem.
Commission Chairman Clare Ramsay says he has nothing against the beaver and even believes that the animals would be good for the higher-elevation areas of Garfield County and to improve stream flow. But, he explains, local officials and their constituents "have been down that road before on a lot of different issues over the years."
Although Ramsay didn't specifically say it, they seem to be afraid that if they let scientists reintroduce beavers, the next thing they know, environmental groups will be using the beavers' well-being as a reason to curtail grazing.
That is a stretch, since American beaver are not listed as an endangered or even a threatened species, even though they were once trapped almost to extinction in North America for their pelts. They are native to Garfield County and a few still live and do their dam building in headwaters of streams that feed the Escalante River.
The DWS manages them, sometimes moving them from place to place on public land, both for the animals' own welfare and to improve forests and the habitat of other wildlife. The agency has moved a dozen from other parts of the state to Garfield, Kane and Washington counties and would like to bring in 9,000 more.
The commissioners of Garfield County should get involved in talks about the beaver reintroduction. If they better understood the plan, they would quit seeing it as a conspiracy aimed at them.