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The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter
By Ben Goldfarb written in 2018
I first saw Eager The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, I thought why would anyone want to read a thick book about beavers.
After all, these large rodents aren’t unfamiliar to me.
Where I grew up most of the creeks had beaver dams. For us hunters and trappers, the dams are handy to use as bridges to cross the creeks.
The dams are also useful during salmon and steelhead spawning run as the fish congregate downstream of the dams.
Although I was skeptical of this book at first, for some reason, I picked up a copy.
I’m glad I did.
Because the book is a mesmerizing and thorough investigation on why beavers are a true keystone species.
Even though they're often called a pain in the ass, labeled destroyers of property, vilified and sorely misunderstood, beavers can solve many of our environmental issues.
The author, Ben Goldfarb, does a great job of documenting how we humans are our own worst enemy. In that, we remove or kill beavers because they keep messing with our perception of how rivers and streams should flow.
Let's face it, only humans know how to manage watercourses. Nature didn’t know how to take care of itself before masses of Europeans invaded North America (read that as sarcasm).
In reality, though, beavers had a hard row to hoe even before we wanted to straighten out watercourses and force them to flow the way we want and drain the marshes and wetlands created by the beavers.
The beavers first problem is their warm, waterproof fur.
The Europeans had a fashion craze for hats and capes made from beaver pelts starting as far back as the 1500s. They traded with the Native Americans for pelts, and eventually, the demand attracted hunters and trappers that brought beavers near the brink of extermination.
Another reason I like this book is Goldfarb doesn't hold back about the cons of having beavers around. He also lays out all of the reasons why people say they hate beavers.
One of the biggest surprises for me was how fishery people believe that beavers hold back the migration of fish.
Anyone who has walked and fished on beaver dams would know that those seemingly solid masses of sticks and mud don’t hold back fish, whether they be salmonoids, suckers, or lampreys, they just slow down the run.
The ponds also make great places for fingerlings to grow until they return to the larger water body downstream.
One fact that I didn’t know, and as a geologist, I should’ve figured out was how beaver dams don’t warm up streams.
Sure, the pond behind the damn may heat up in the summer (providing a haven for warm-water fish and fingerlings), but downstream the water is actually colder.
The weight of the water behind the dam forces some of the water into the ground. Besides raising the groundwater table, the earth which is always cooler than the summer air removes heat from the water.
When the groundwater reenters the waterway downstream, it cools the water flowing down the creek.
Goldfarb provides proof that many species hinge on beavers to do what they do best, creating new habit.
Even if the beavers efforts seem to produce nothing but chaos for the landowners, the diversity of life that beaver ponds draw to the area improves the overall well-being of the property.
Where droughts are becoming a problem, especially west of the Mississippi, beavers can help by retaining more of the meltwater longer through the season by slowing down the flow and recharging the groundwater table.
I’m not going to discuss all of the advantages beavers provide, such as flood management, reduce drought, raise the groundwater table, reduce erosion, purify waterways, improve browse for animals, create habitats, and more I’m sure I missed, I’ll let you read the interesting details yourself.
All I’m going to say is that beavers can do all things the environmentalists are trying to do and for significantly less money if left alone.
Restoring beaver habitat does much more than help only the beavers, it's healing the world.
Fortunately, we’re starting to learn that beavers are essential to healthy ecosystems. We need people to stand up in town meetings to let those that make decisions for us to know that it’s far wiser to learn to coexist with beavers than to relocate or kill them.
Eager is a well-written book that tells the story of the beaver's near eradication across the U.S. and Europe.
The toil of the effects of the loss of beaver have on our waterways, and the fantastic ways beaver create animal habitat and diversity while fighting drought, improving groundwater, reducing erosion and loss of fertile soil.
I also found the stories about all of the people helping to reintroduce and preserve beaver habitat inspiring.
Hopefully, the land I purchase will have prime beaver habitat or at least an environment where I can create habitat to draw beaver in.
Because how great would it be to watch a family of beaver swimming around and creating habitat for a myriad of plants and animals?
I rate Eager Beavers Matter a 4 out of 5 rating.
I enjoyed learning how beavers dominated and controlled waterways before the European migration to North America. The author does an excellent job presenting and tearing down the myths about beavers.
It's incredible how one animal can provide for so many more species, and how a predator is so crucial to reintroducing beavers back into the western US.
I know I didn't talk about the predator in this review, but it's a great story, and I wanted to leave something for you to look forward too.
I'm glad I read Eager Beavers Matters, even though I'm very familiar with these rodents, I've learned a lot about beavers and how they interact with other animals and the environment.
Don't hesitate to purchase this book.
If so, leave a comment below and give us your opinion on the book. We'd love to hear your thoughts!
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Eager The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter
Ben Goldfarb - 286pp.
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