July 22, 2024


After a decade of work, the Tule River Tribe released nine beavers into the nation’s preserve in the foothills of California’s southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. The beavers are expected to make the landscape more fire and drought resistant. Beaver dams trap water in pools, slowing the flow of water so the surrounding ecosystem can reap the benefits of the moisture while making it harder for wildfires to start. They can also help heal a forest after a fire by rehydrating the area.

“We’ve been through a lot of droughts over the years,” said Kenneth McDarmet, who is a Tule River tribal member and former councilman. “It’s going to be great to see them do their thing.”

About 80 percent of the Tule River Reserve’s drinking water comes from the Tule watershed. Because the area is so important to the health of the community, since 2014 the tribe has been preparing the area and building man-made dams to help the new beavers adapt more quickly.

Temperatures worldwide are is expected to get warmer, increasing drought and creating conditions that make wildfires bigger and deadlier. In California, of the worst wildfires on record happened in the last five years partly due to drought. In 2020, three fires burned almost a million hectares in the Sierra Nevada forest, and in 2021 a wildfire burned an additional one 1.5 million hectares. Bringing back beavers might provide a respite.

Before colonization, the North American beaver population was estimated to be about 200 million. But in the 1800s, beavers were hunted by settlers for their furs, decimating the population, while farmers and landowners considered them – and still do – as pests. Today, the beaver population is estimated to be about 12 million.

But in recent years there has been a growing interest in traditional ecological knowledge of tribes, and the beaver has been celebrated as an ecological engineer.

In 2022, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, or CDFW, has funding for the Beaver Recovery Program, a program designed to restore the beaver population and support conservation efforts. In 2023, the CDFW recognized beavers as a keystone species, an animal that affects other animals on the landscape such as bison or bees, thus influencing the ecosystem in large ways. Their absence typically has negative effects on the landscape and its interconnected ecosystems.

Today, the CDFW program works with tribes, nonprofits, landowners, and state and federal entities to restore beaver populations and habitats in an effort to improve climate change, drought, and wildfire resilience in California.

“We expect better habitat conditions for native animals on the land,” said Krysten Kallum, a public information officer with the CDFW. “It creates a haven for plants and wildlife.”

More water means more plants that can attract other types of animals to the area. The CDFW expects to see better habitat development for amphibians such as the western pond turtles, southern mountain yellow-legged frogs, and southwestern willow flycatchers, which will help increase biodiversity.

McDarment, of Tule River, said log pictures show beavers living in the area, and it’s good to see them back here.

“My hope is to have beaver throughout the discussion,” he said.






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