If there's any wildlife species that should unite Utahns it's the beaver. After all, we're the second-driest state in the nation, and more water isn't likely. Our state's southern half is hot and getting hotter. We're in trouble, but beaver are waiting in the wings to help us.
Their dams slow the run of snowmelt off the mountains, which can transform creeks that have begun to dry up by late summer into creeks that once again run all year. While the temperature rises, their dams transfer water underground that emerges cooler downstream. As our wetlands disappear, their dams create new wetlands. As reservoirs fill with sediment, their dams extend reservoir life by capturing and storing sediment upstream.
This sediment raises the beds of streams that have become incised ditches and reconnects them with their floodplain, allowing the streams to once again support the willow, cottonwood and aspen that play key roles in holding our watersheds together. As the gouging of storms increases, beaver dams act as speed bumps.
Ranchers get expanded riparian areas, a livestock heaven. Anglers and hunters get more fish and ducks, and enlarged wildlife habitat. Wildlife watchers get more birds, frogs, otter, mink, and â¦ beavers. Children get to hear a beaver's tail slap a warning that humans are around. We all get new ponds and meadows.
Any problems? Beaver families can easily be trapped live by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and moved from a site where they're inconvenient (for instance, irrigation ditches) to a site where their multiple services are welcome. That's the purpose of the 2010-2020 Utah Beaver Management Plan: to solve beaver problems while increasing beaver benefits.
What's not to like about beavers? Why did Garfield County commissioners recently request that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources not move beavers from problem sites to good sites in their county? According to Commissioner Clare Ramsey, it's because the motives of environmentalists are suspect: They might use beavers to attack livestock grazing on public lands.
The truth? Well-managed livestock can allow streams to become great habitat for beavers, and then beavers can return the favor by expanding the riparian meadows in which livestock love to graze.
Several of us recently traveled to the Maggie Creek watershed near Elko, Nev., where ranchers showed us streams they have restored from being wide, hot, gravel sites (we saw those "before" photos) to lush willow stands and meadows simply by changing how they manage their cattle. Their cattle now have more riparian area, Lahontan cutthroat trout are increasing, and beavers are returning to hundreds of miles of the Nevada creeks.
While we were talking, beavers swam up one creek and mink loped over another bank and into the water. There's a lot to celebrate there.
Which brings us to a great first-ever beaver celebration scheduled here in Utah in Garfield County, no less. The Leave It to Beavers Festival will take place Sept. 21-22 at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park near Escalante. There will be music, food, a live-trapping demonstration, great children's activities, Hogle Zoo animals, hikes to beaver dams led by local residents, informational displays, and art and photos of Utah's beavers (it's not too late to enter one of the four art and photo contests).
See utahbeaversfestival.org for information that just may encourage us to realize how beavers unite, rather than divide, all of us.
Mary O'Brien is Utah forests program director for the Grand Canyon Trust. She lives in Castle Valley.