First, we used their fur for warmth, then for hats. We did, and do, use their castor glands for perfumes. Turns out you can get rid of a lot of beavers that way.
But, because a few stubborn beavers survived our onslaught, some know-it-all officials decided that the animal’s activities were detrimental to our human way of life. So trapping and shooting were encouraged. Yet we still have beavers.
A well-thought-out website, dedicated to all things beaver, maintains that; “the beaver isn’t just an animal; it’s an ecosystem,” and the authors have set out facts and figures backing up that statement.
When the beaver was considered a pest, the thinking was that beaver dams caused flooding, along with preventing trout and salmon from reaching their spawning grounds. It was also suggested that the beaver would destroy quaking aspen and black cottonwood groves, and halt the growth of willows.
By the early 1900s, excessive trapping had decimated the Sierra’s beaver population. So it was conveniently forgotten that the beaver was always a native species in our mountains.
In 1934 someone realized that the beaver actually benefited streams and the surrounding vegetation, so the reintroduction of the little critter started.
Then our furry friends began again; doing the job for which they were created. Beaver’s dams help keep our lakes and waterways clear by filtering the stream water, they create ponds where fish thrive, as well as encouraging the development of wetlands which support trees — think quaking aspen, cottonwood and willows. It is agreed now that neither trout nor salmon have any trouble navigating their way across a beaver dam.
However, as recently as 2010, Placer County officials okayed the extermination of four beavers along Griff Creek in Kings Beach, despite the protests of school children.
Not many Tahoe dwellers have had the privilege of a personal encounter with a beaver. This lucky real estate agent has. On one of my many trips over Mt. Rose, I spotted a brown heap in the middle of Mt. Rose Highway. As my car got closer, I realized the heap was a mass of quivering beaver, paralyzed with fear, unable to move either way across the road. I pulled over. Fortunately, traffic was fairly light. By quietly walking behind the animal, I was able to shepherd the pitiful beaver to the side of the road. I hope it was the side the beaver was aiming for in the first place, although at that point it didn’t matter.
Even if you never spot one of these mostly nocturnal creatures, be content in the knowledge that they are here, at work, taking care of us, and our Lake Tahoe. The beaver rules.