The 11th Annual Run for the Hills will take place on Saturday, June 10th! This event features 30K and 8K trail runs, a 2-mile run/walk, and a 1/4-mile kids fun run. This popular event is great for the whole family!
Proceeds benefit Greenbelt Land Trust’s Trails Fund to help maintain and enhance our public trail systems.
Registration is now open- register HERE!
Beavers are OSU’s beloved mascot, an important character in indigenous folklore, a listed “nuisance” animal in some states, and a fur-bearer trapped nearly to the point of extirpation. They have had a long and sometimes controversial history in Oregon (it’s the beaver state after all!). For thousands of years, beavers have been ecosystem engineers, creating wetlands and altering landscapes to the benefit of many species, such as coho salmon.
Join Greenbelt and Jimmy Taylor, Supervisory Research Wildlife Biologist with the National Wildlife Research Center, on a walk as we talk about beaver natural history, explore a local wetland, and observe an active beaver dam at Bald Hill Farm.
This walk is brought to you by Greenbelt Land Trust and The Wetlands Conservancy. It takes place at the “tale” end of the Beaver Tales: A Celebration of Beaver Art exhibit spearheaded by The Wetlands Conservancy – and on exhibit throughout February at OSU’s LaSells Stewart Center.
To RSVP for the walk or for more info, contact Rebecca@greenbeltlandtrust.org.
Oregon has a very long and notable history with American beaver. Two years ago John Zancancella, the BLM’s coordinator for paleontology in Prineville, stumbled upon some unusual rodent-like teeth while perusing an eroded patch of frozen ground near the John Day Fossil Beds. The teeth were a molar and premolar (back teeth) from an ancient species of beaver that swam 7-7.3 million years ago in the creeks, ponds and rivers in grass-dominated landscapes occupied by “small camels, short-trunked elephants and shovel-tusked mastodons.” The teeth are very similar to the molars and premolars found in modern beaver suggesting that the animal has changed little since the late Miocene. The fossils are currently the oldest evidence of beaver in the New World and provide a window into the divergence of our Castor Canadensis and its Eurasian cousin, Castor fiber. However, this ancestral beaver lived in a world that was changing. The earth’s climate was cooling and becoming more arid as carbon levels fell. Entire families of animals, that were adapted to browsing on shrubs and trees, disappeared to be replaced by long-toothed, heavy-jawed grazing animals such as large camels and more fleet-footed and long-limbed horses that could consume the tougher carbon-fixing (C4) grasses dominating the landscapes in eastern Oregon.
Beaver are culturally significant to native Americans. They often appear in stories and images, and were widely recognized as “creators”. With their great energy, diligence and engineering skills, they build rich and diverse habitats for plants and animals. Euro-American traders sailed along the coast of Oregon in the mid-18th century and traded for sea otters skins. Beaver pelts were also traded, but to a lesser extent until the Hudson Bay Company and rivals (Pacific Fur and North West Company) arrived in the early 1800s and established rough outposts in the Pacific Northwest. To reduce competition from other companies, The Hudson Bay Company developed a policy of fur “desertification” whereby beaver in the Snake River Country would be removed to prevent American fur trappers from entering the Pacific Northwest. Nearly 35,000 beaver were trapped over six years in this buffer zone. Ultimately this keystone ecological species was nearly exterminated from much of the Snake River Country (and Oregon) and the vast benefits that they provided to the aquatic and riparian systems ceased. The health of many streams and rivers suffered as a consequence. Jennifer Ott provides a great narrative of this history in her article “Ruining the Rivers in the Snake River.” She suggested aside from the ecological consequences that the “fur desert policy is not the story of the Snake River Basin but is one part of a larger history that includes innumerable human-nature interactions that have shaped and reshaped the place in which people live.” Müller-Schwarze and Lixing Sun in their book “The Beaver: Natural History of a Wetland Engineer” state that “no other wild animal has shaped North American history as much as beaver…..The fur trade painted the map of North America’s interior and paved the way for European settlement, the founding of empires, and the destruction of indigenous cultures.” The disappearance of Atlantic and Pacific salmon and large carnivores like wolves in many areas is a similar story of extirpation and loss, and is a remarkable example of history repeating itself as humans reshaped the environment (through time) in different geographic settings.
In the first half of the 20th century, state wildlife managers seemed to clearly understand that the loss of beaver had seriously degraded many aquatic systems that benefit fish and wildlife. The response to our impacts on nature is often a story of trying to fix what is broken with expensive and sometimes odd remedies. Elmo W. Heter in 1950 published an article in the Journal of Wildlife Management (JWM) about a project that parachuted beavers into remote areas of Idaho to re-establish populations. They tested the methodology on a male, named Geronimo, with numerous parachuting trials. Eventually he was dropped into some remote mountain valley with numerous females. Beaver have returned to many areas, but not without controversy. Beavers are inherently wetland engineers that backup water. A consequence may be a wetland that provides rich habitats for birds, amphibians and fish, or plugged culverts, flooded roads, girdled or down trees and frowning landowners. The Oregon State Department of Agriculture list them as a “predatory animal” (like rabbits, rodents, and feral swine) on private lands. They can be killed without a permit or provocation by a landowner. On public lands they are managed as a “protected furbearer” that can, under some regulatory guidance, be trapped for fur, recreation and/or damage control. Many fish biologists believe that beaver are a significant component of recovery planning for coastal coho and other threatened fish species. Steve Trask, a fish ecologist, recently talked about the importance of beaver to the health and long-term future of streams in western Oregon. He noted that production of many native Oregon fish was significantly higher in habitat created by beaver and lamented the ecological collapse of many stream systems that no longer contain beaver or their work. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is conducting experimental re-locations of beaver in the Umpqua Basin with the help of some long-bearded, passionate landowners who are committed beaver advocates. Dr. Mark Needham at Oregon State University completed a recent beaver impact survey with the goal of understanding landowner tolerance levels of beaver in Oregon. The results of the survey provide some new insights on how we could manage beaver. Most landowners (57%) in the survey were interested in having beaver on their property or on neighboring properties and killing beaver as opposed to other mitigation measures for damage caused by their activities was deemed an unacceptable alternative regardless of location (rural, urban, eastside and westside) of the respondent. There is clearly room for more education on beaver and for more compromise on their management.
Walking on Bald Hill Natural Area and Farm in January, I noticed that Mulkey Creek was spreading across an ash forest adjacent to the main channel. Further down the trail and down the creek, I heard the roar of water spilling over an impediment. It was a partial beaver dam that bridged the creek and created a natural saturated floodplain forest and wetland. I think of all the thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of sweat labor that we spend hauling logs from afar and placing them in streams. Beaver are cheap and efficient labor. They do these things as a course of life. Maybe we are slightly envious of them because they are natural creators and reside very comfortably in their ecological role while we struggle with understanding how we should act in nature.