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Restoring California wetlands and fighting climate change? Leave it to beavers

A tagged male beaver swims.
A tagged 50-pound male beaver nicknamed Quincy swims near Ellensburg, Wash., in 2014.
(Manuel Valdes / Associated Press)
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Good morning. It’s Wednesday, Sept. 13. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

  • Beavers bounce back, bringing big benefits
  • Morocco earthquake is a warning for California
  • And here’s today’s e-newspaper

Restoring California wetlands and fighting climate change? Leave it to beavers

A baby beaver was spotted scurrying near a creek in Palo Alto, marking the first sighting of the species in that area in decades — and possibly signaling a beaver colony’s return to the region after more than a century. Pretty dam exciting.

“After being hunted and harassed for hundreds of years, the North American beaver is poised to make a comeback in the Golden State,” my colleague Grace Toohey reported.

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That comeback is welcome news for California ecologists, including Kate Lundquist and Brock Dolman, co-directors of the nonprofit Occidental Arts and Ecology Center’s Water Institute. Beavers are “the great wetland creators and managers,” Lundquist said. Their survival instinct also serves to combat drought.

“They’re just this big rodent that’s trying to avoid getting eaten,” she said. Beavers build their famous dams so they can avoid predators by using underwater entrances to their homes. Those dams help recharge groundwater.

Beavers’ projects also support a variety of plant and other animal species that thrive in the wetland environment their dams create. They can also foster healthier conditions for struggling fish populations, Dolman said. Plus, the corridors they help sustain have been shown to do better against wildfires.

“Where beaver habitat is on the landscape is disproportionately small … but it’s disproportionately important and beneficial,” he said. “To not work with these species to our collective benefit seems like we’re just missing a whole lot of opportunities.”

As state agencies look to restore threatened wetlands and reduce the risk of devastating wildfires, they’ve enlisted beavers’ help. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife launched a beaver restoration program this summer, implementing new policies aimed at protecting beavers from water managers and landowners that view their construction projects as a nuisance.

“This new policy formally recognizes beavers as a keystone species and ecosystem engineers in California,” department Director Charlton H. Bonham said in a news release, calling the rodents “the Swiss army knife of native species.”

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Some view beavers as a nuisance, but Lundquist told me that the tension really comes down to the fact that humans spent decades killing beavers and draining their native habitats. Now as beavers make a comeback, they’re reclaiming that habitat for themselves, she said.

If the animals are chomping down trees or causing flooding where they shouldn’t, Lundquist and Dolman noted there are several techniques that can be used to safely keep beavers in check or relocate them.

Both said the effort toward coexistence is key to embracing natural infrastructure’s potential to restore habitats and address the effects of climate change. That’s a major shift from the “modern settler-colonist-industrial mind-set” that Dolman said has proved to be “ecologically illiterate.”

“Beaver are great agents of eco- and hydro-literacy,” he said. “They reconnect us to being part of systems versus apart from them.”

Today’s top stories

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Commentary and opinions

Today’s great reads

People walk amid the damage caused by an earthquake.
(Mosa’ab Elshamy / Associated Press)

The earthquake in Morocco is a warning for California. The ancient city of Marrakech might seem half a world away from California. But weak brick structures breaking apart, unable to withstand seismic activity, is something with which California must also grapple.

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For your downtime

Quentin Earl Darrington portrays Don Cornelius in "Hippest Trip — The Soul Train Musical."
(Kevin Berne & Alessandra Mello)

Going out

Staying in

And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! Send us photos you have taken of spots in California that are special — natural or human-made — and tell us why they’re important to you.

The peristyle end of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
(Melody Nishida)

Today’s great photo is from Melody Nishida of Los Angeles: The L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Melody writes:

As a USC alumna, [I have] so many thrilling memories in this historical venue: cheering on our beloved Trojans, dancing & singing to the tunes of The Trojan Marching Band, watching Traveler run the sidelines after each touchdown & raising our fingers in the “Victory” sign while yelling “Fight On”!

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

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