By Lauren Heine
Can deception save a relationship? When it comes to humans and beavers, it’s certainly helping to keep the peace.
Beavers have been driven out of their homes and hunted to near extinction in many places. But once they were gone, it became clear that we needed them … and the amazing dams they build. So the humble beaver is making a comeback – being re-introduced to natural habits across Europe and all the way to California.
Beaver fans know what the short-sighted only discovered once they’d driven them away. Their damming activity shouldn’t be damned. It helps sustain wetlands, filters toxins from the waters, and spurs all kinds of healthy plant growth near the beaver ponds behind the dams, helping to create nice habitats for other animals. (If only humans could be so cooperative with their neighbors!) Some biologists argue that beaver dams could even protect areas around the Mississippi from catastrophic flooding.
Beavers know instinctively where to build a dam. They listen to the water, they feel the flow, and they look for places where the water is being funneled into a narrower channel, and that’s where they build. The pond that forms behind the dam gives them a good place, safe from predators, where they can build a home and be within swimming distance of their favorite foods.
Trouble is that humans sometimes like to funnel water into, say, culverts that channel streams under roads. Hmm, say the beavers, perfect place for a dam. Hmm, say the humans, not such a good place for a dam.
In 2007, a pair of beavers arrived in Alhambra Creek in downtown Martinez, California, and decided it was the perfect for a dam. City officials decided to kill the beavers. The public strongly objected. California’s Department of Fish and Game offered to relocate the animals, but relocation of beavers is generally unsuccessful and the public strongly supported keeping the beavers in Martinez.
Beaver deceiver by the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians
Enter Skip Lisle, a biologist and inventor of the “beaver deceiver”. It’s a kind of fence that lets the water flow and lets the fish through, too. But it keeps eager beavers sufficiently far back from the sound of rushing water that they decide there’s no need for their engineering efforts in the area.
The method has been so successful that beaver deceivers are being used throughout Europe and North America. And beavers are finding more and more welcome mats out for their homecoming.
Lauren Heine, Ph.D., is Principal for the Lauren Heine Group, and a Senior Science Advisor with Clean Production Action.
With experience and expertise in green chemistry, green engineering, sustainable business practices, and multi-stakeholder initiatives, she advises organizations seeking to integrate green chemistry and engineering into product and process design and development activities.
As Director of Applied Science at GreenBlue she directed the development of CleanGredients, a unique, web-based information platform that promotes green chemistry and environmentally preferable product formulation.