Beavers, Climate Change, and Ecosystem Resilience
By Elizabeth Johnson
Biodiversity First!’s purpose is the protection and recovery of, and securing a future for, all species of wild animals and plants by protecting and con- serving the lands, waters, watersheds, and connectivity that support a symbiotic community that enables climate change resilience. As aquatic engineers without parallel, North American beavers, Castor canadensis, create complex ecosystems that serve a whole suite of other species, some of which are endangered. Biodiversity First! is focused on environmental restorations that promote biological diversity.
While beavers themselves are not endangered, their population and presence in watersheds has been vastly diminished, first by 19th century fur trappers, and today by laws that name them as pests. Through this research grant, we hope to establish a new language for this keystone species in our region that will assist land and water management decisions to shift toward embracing the benefits that beavers offer to wild animals, local and migratory birds, frogs, amphibians, insects, and aquatic plants as they restore the ecosystem
Emily Fairfax, PhD, ecohydrologist and Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Resource Management at California State University Channel Islands, has begun research on the Upper Salinas River to explore the connections between beaver-built environments, climate change, and ecosystem resilience with a grant from San Luis Obispo non-profit Biodiversity First! During the 2020-2021 grant cycle, Dr. Fairfax will be assisted by her CSUCI students. She plans to share research results in articles and conference presentations in 2021.
Dr. Fairfax double majored in Chemistry and Physics as an undergraduate at Carleton College, then went on to earn her PhD in Geological Sciences in 2019 from University of Colorado Boulder. During her doctoral studies, she used a combination of remote sensing and field work to study how beaver activity can create drought and fire-resistant patches in the landscape under a changing climate. Well-known in the beaver research community, Dr. Fairfax has several published peer-reviewed articles, was recently featured in National Geographic, and routinely gives both technical and outreach presentations on her work.
“Beaver dams build climate resiliency by slowing water down and storing it in their ponds and the surrounding riparian area. Their wetlands are uniquely resistant to disturbances like droughts and fire.”Emily Fairfax 2019
Chumash pictograph drawing – Central California
“Another figure appears to be a beaver (Fig. 9): these creatures were once common in the area”
The Painted Rock Site: Sapaksi, The House of the Sun
G. Lee & S. Horne 1978
Nature’s Chief Engineers
“In recent years an increasing body of knowledge has demonstrated the many benefits of beavers, as well as innovative, cost-effective methods to manage them. North America’s most valuable Keystone species, the beaver, can naturally restore healthy streams and watersheds, improve water quality and storage, combat climate change, increase biodiversity and even recover endangered species, including salmon.”
Mike Callahan and Scott McGill