LEAVE IT TO BEAVERS – support this keystone species

This blog post is offered by Bobbie Cleave. Bobbie comes from Utah and currently stays at Deer Park Monastery with her husband Boz. She received the 14 Mindfulness Trainings and entered the Core Community of the Order of Interbeing 6 years ago with the Dharma Name: True Capacity of the Earth.

BeaverIn these times of more and more talk of global warming and the acceptance of the human causes of climate change, we are realizing the importance of a keystone species, the beaver. Beavers are easy to love. They mate for life and are devoted parents. They have a language and sing to each other. At one time in North America there were over 200 million beaver, but extensive trapping lowered these numbers to a dangerous 2 million in this century. There is now an effort building to educate people on the key role beaver can again play in healthy water systems. Water is life, and beaver are one of the top species on the planet to protect water, clean water, and save water.

Beaver dams impact water quality because of sediment capture. The dams can even trap and neutralize pollutants from agriculture and the air, creating cleaner water. The increased vegetation along the shores of slower water increases both riparian (shoreline plants) health and water health. Beaver work decreases flood intensity, which is a major loss of water and soil worldwide. The greater diversity in surrounding habitat that beavers allow increases both animal and plant richness in and out of the water. Beaver ponds provide habitat throughout the year for many species of fish and increase both length and volume of stream flow benefitting all living beings.

When my husband Boz and I retired to Southern Utah, we lived on land surrounded by the Grand Staircase Escalante NM. There was already a coalition building to try to study and protect the Escalante Watershed called the ERWP (Escalante River Watershed Partnership). It was bringing together federal and state government agencies, scientists, non-profit organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, local town councils, land owners and concerned citizens to look at the entire watershed (from central Utah to Lake Powell).

The exciting thing about getting involved in the project was the attempt to build communication between many groups, which hadn’t worked together before or even were in opposing positions. As a part of the partnership, we won a grant to work on beaver restoration on the mountain near our small town in Utah that is the main source of the entire watershed. We again were spreading the word that beaver are so important to create ponds and natural dams that slow the descent of water and improve stream health for fish, grazers, and so many other animals including humans. We have worked in schools and at town meetings in rural Utah to try changing attitudes about beavers, long considered a pest species to be eliminated or profitable only for pelts. They are still hunted and trapped often and their dams blown up. Teens have told us that they grew up killing beavers for fun. We have had to work hard to think of ways to skillfully change this attitude. In an area where danger from wild fire in the intermountain west is high, we are trying to stress also the important role beaver can play in decreasing the spread of wildfires. Sometimes progress seems very slow, but we hope that with time more and more people will be educated about the incredible contribution our friends the beavers offer in watershed health and water retention in a warming world. We have tried to get these same local kids involved in the training of how to relocate beaver and in construction of beaver devices. These devices, called “beaver deceivers” keep beavers from building dams where they are not wanted, like in irrigation canals.

It is easy to get discouraged in this work, and in the news about climate change in general. It is easy to get overwhelmed. We find that picking one or two things to work on at a time helps. For three years, it was beaver reintroduction. For ten years it has been beekeeping and learning to work with bees as another keystone species. In the face of angry local ranchers and politicians, we have had to face our own suffering and impatience. Change often doesn’t come quickly. We have found that creating a community of support with others who are committed to the same thing helps immensely (environmental sangha) as does our spiritual sangha. We also return to Deer Park Monastery as often as we can to recharge our own practice and to turn to the monastics for guidance in keeping an open heart. If we are to be true “earth holders”, the practice of right speech and deep listening is crucial.

On a last positive note, we have also had a building effort to create dark sky initiatives in our area, which limit artificial light so that more of the night sky is visible. We also have a “quiet use” initiative, which is educating people in our area on the choice of being a quiet use destination rather than recreation driven by loud machines of various kinds. Progress in these areas is also slow in our part of the country. There is a great fear of change and distrust of science and the government. Working in the schools increases chances that the next generation will feel differently. We again have to remember to go back our breathing and practice patience, even though time is of the essence. It is not often an easy balancing act. Often change cannot be forced. When we feel heartbroken over environmental destruction, we turn to the teachings of present moment gratitude for this magic planet and know that we can only do our little part. We have to come from a solid place of strength, joy, and compassion within ourselves if our work is to be long lasting and true.

(For more information on beavers in a light hearted and entertaining way, the movie “Leave it to Beavers” is available on Netflix and fun for the whole family).