Problem: Our climate-driven water crisis and megafires
In 2020, Oregon communities endured more wildfire than any year in recent memory. And in 2021, Oregon’s unprecedented heat waves and prolonged drought have resulted in failed crops, more wildfires, and loss of property, wildlife, livestock, and human life. The bad news is, this is just the beginning. Climate change will continue to severely alter precipitation and temperature patterns in the western U.S.
During Oregon’s 2021 legislative session, there were some gains in climate and social policies. Wildfire relief bills were passed to provide resources for agencies and communities to better adapt to more future fire events. But impacts to communities, and the fight for future water security continues.
Our state animal, university mascot, and ecological engineer extraordinaire is forced to sit on the sidelines during these challenging times, since it is valued by some state officials, and less than 170 people in the state, as merely a species to trap and shoot for recreation.
Now is the time to change all of that. If your response is “I’m ready to do something positive, what’s my next step?” – read on.
Solution: Restore Oregon’s waterways and wetlands ASAP
Whether you live in an urban or rural area, restoring beaver’s role on public lands benefits us all via the water-rich, carbon storing habitat they create and maintain. As wetlands, ponds, rising water tables and riparian vegetation increase, so does Oregon’s water security, its drought-preparedness, and its fish and wildlife habitat and connectivity. As habitat expands, so does the number of natural firebreaks – these zones of lush green and water serve as safety zones for wildlife and livestock during fire, and habitat post-fire. And they create conditions that improve salmon rearing habitat and quality throughout their range, and temporarily store water to then feed the streams during drought.
Given the scale of degradation within streams and wetlands and throughout the West, we need all partners mobilized to restore these systems. Beaver are our greatest ally! But for this ecosystem engineer to successfully provide resilience against drought & wildfire, they must be able to safely build and maintain their natural infrastructure (dams!) while expanding their numbers and distributions across the state. So, let’s get them protected!
We must give beaver protection from hunting and trapping under the state furbearer regulations on Oregon’s public lands, and encourage funds to be made available to provide incentives to private landowners to work with beavers to store water, sub-irrigate fields and create wetlands. This possibility is within reach if Oregon closes these public lands to recreational beaver trapping and hunting, before the next beaver trapping and hunting season starts on November 15. This would allow beaver to begin expanding the abundance of wetlands, ponds, and complex riparian areas, making it an effective climate change response strategy.