Floating down the Green River in Utah recently, I marveled at how this water I was floating in would soon meet up with the Colorado River and make its way to my faucet in San Diego. The silence of the journey between towering walls creates big space for emotional connection. I was deep in reverie when a shout from a canoe downstream alerted us to activity in the water nearby. It was a beaver, swimming 5’ from our canoe, its sleek brown fur glistening in the sunlight. This was my first wild Beaver sighting!
I have been following beavers for years now. Through inspiring work by Occidental Arts and Ecology “Bring Back the Beaver” campaign, to Watershed Management Group “Release the Beaver” campaign I have learned so much about Beavers, and how they benefit watersheds.
Beaver populations once widespread in California and the Southwest were severely decreased by a combination of the fur industry and farming.
Little did we know this keystone species is vital to river and stream health. Beaver activities slow flows, which besides slowing erosion, this also helps watersheds infiltrate moisture into larger areas around the waterways. This might seem like it is detrimental to downstream flows, but water harvesters understand that the higher up in the watershed you can get water to soak in, the longer it will remain in the watershed, and sometimes you can even turn seasonal flows into perennial flows. The difference between beaver dams and human dams is that beaver dams don’t interrupt native fish flows or cut flow off completely, and they are not permanent, so rivers and streams can still supply their native watersheds with much needed flow.
We have beavers here in San Diego! The Santa Margarita in North County San Diego is a shared watershed with Riverside county. It flows through Fallbrook and Camp Pendleton and enters the Pacific Ocean just north of Oceanside. The Santa Margarita River is one of the last undammed rivers in California – undammed by humans that is – and is the most ecologically intact river in Southern California. There are still some questions about whether or not Beavers are historically native to the Santa Margarita, but they were (re)introduced and are thriving, despite Camp Pendleton’s continued efforts to remove them. You can take a hike along the River and see their handiwork.
Later in my 9 day trip through the Labyrinth on the Green River, one quiet morning, I stood at the end of the sand bar where we camped listening to the hushed movement of water nearby. I heard a rustling in the nearby willows along the bank. With all my senses open and heightened, I watched as a Beaver emerged from the willows and slid down the bank of the river. Tears of gratitude filled my eyes. Finding quiet moments in nature to appreciate each part of the system can be inspiring and meaningful. It can remind us of why it is important to protect and conserve our precious resources and the ecology that supports and is supported by all of it.