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Environment

Beavers could help solve the climate crisis, if we learn to coexist

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Ben Goldfarb
Members of the Methow Beaver Project carry a beaver named Chomper to a relocation site in the Methow Valley in northern Washington. Restoration and relocation efforts such as this are gaining momentum across the country as more people start to recognize the ecological benefits of having beaver on the landscape.

From creating wetland habitat and engineering firebreaks to sequestering carbon and replenishing groundwater, beavers are an integral part of our local ecosystem.

These large aquatic rodents could even help us solve the human-caused climate crisis, but just a fraction of their number remains after European trappers decimated populations across North America.

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Ben Goldfarb
A beaver slips into the water next to its lodge at Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. While beavers are not an endangered species, their populations are still recovering after being decimated by the European fur trade throughout North America in the 1800s.

“There’s no question that the loss of beavers, especially in the 19th century in Colorado, was this ecological disaster on par with overgrazing or mining or logging or any other environmental issue that you care to name,” said Ben Goldfarb, an award-winning writer and author of “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter.”

Goldfarb, who lives in Buena Vista and is giving a talk about the importance of beavers at Carbondale’s Third Street Center at 6 p.m. Thursday, and ecohydrologist Sarah Marshall have been researching ways to restore more beavers — and manage existing populations — in places such as the Roaring Fork Valley.

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Brent Gardner-Smith
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Aspen Public Radio
A beaver dam overflows on upper Maroon Creek, within view of the Maroon Bells. Ponds and wetland ecosystems engineered by beavers create natural fire breaks, replenish groundwater and provide habitat for other plants and animals.

Marshall, who has been working with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program at Colorado State University on a wetland study in the Roaring Fork River watershed since 2019, is part of a team launching a new beaver-mapping project across the state.

“Colorado has actually never had a beaver-population estimate, and it will be really interesting to track that over time,” Marshall said. “It’s so fundamental to understanding our water resources, our available habitats and our resilience to climate change.”

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Courtesy of Ben Goldfarb
Ben Goldfarb, an award-winning writer and author of “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter,” stands in front of a massive beaver dam in northern Minnesota. Goldfarb is giving a book talk at Carbondale’s Third Street Center at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Aspen Public Radio recently talked with these two self-proclaimed “beaver believers” ahead of Goldfarb’s upcoming book talk in Carbondale.

Listen to the conversation above.