Because the beaver isn't just an animal; it's an ecosystem!

The Martinez Beavers

Selecting a Surrogate Species

Share the beaver gospel!

Since this was posted 6 months ago by a federal agency with thousands of employees and offices in all 50 states, but still has only 141 views, we can assume that Fish & Wildlife has mixed feelings about asking for public input on this important topic. Never mind. They got some.


If we were assigned to select an ideal species that could be used to represent a myriad of others, it would be important to choose an animal whose impact is felt equally closely on the land, in the air, and under the water. Theoretically it should have as large an effect on birds and frogs as it has on fish and invertebrates. This ecological ‘everyman’ would be robust to the dramatic effects of climate change, and maybe even help combat its deadly droughts. Ideally the animal would leave convenient clues to its presence that were easy to observe any time of day, and be sure to draw enough attention to itself through its charismatic (and even challenging behaviors), so that everywhere children and adults would be determined to learn more about the animal.

Enter the beaver.

Of course this ‘ideal’ nominee already exists, and its rebounding population is proof of its dramatic capacity for robust adaption. Beavers are a keystone species that were brought back from near extinction after the fur trade nearly extinguished their influence on the landscape forever. An explosion of research in recent years has documented their dramatic impact on birds,  fish (especially salmon and steelhead), frogs, riparian borders, water-tables, and biodiversity. In fact, it has been argued that no other animal has as great a restorative impact on the watershed as the beaver.


You can read the rest here, where I talk about the beaver and its importance to our community, but on this particular Sunday morning, maybe you’ve had enough of reading Heidi? Maybe its time to let some other voices talk about the importance of beavers?

Selecting Beavers as a Surrogate Species would contribute to many components of the Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC) approach. Beaver dams and wetlands are natural and efficient Conservation Designs and their continuing activity contributes Conservation Delivery for free, on a landscape level. And beaver dams, ponds, and chewings provide easily visible Outcome Based Monitoring.

In our Lake Tahoe area, beavers are also critical for water quality. Their dams filter sediments and pollutants from streams and help prevent further decline of Tahoe’s world-renowned clarity. In this era of Climate Change, the water-storage and water-replenishing provided by beavers is ever more important. In the Tahoe and Truckee area, the only green and watered natural areas at the end of last year’s dry season were where there were active beaver colonies.

Sherry Guzzy: Sierra Wildlife Coalition – Tahoe, CA

I will not endeavor, in this writing, to enumerate the myriad benefits of beavers’ natural and instinctive behaviors to the riparian and wetland landscapes they inhabit, as I trust you are in possession of ample data from other sources.  I would, however, suggest that review of all available research and observation clearly leads to the conclusion that within the context of their natural habitat(s), Beavers are, by far, the best candidates for the “surrogate species approach” to strategic conservation, satisfying three of the key definitions, as “umbrella”, “flagship”, and “indicator” species.

Let’s not miss this golden opportunity to recognize beavers for their instinctive vital (and tireless) contribution to the health of a planet beleaguered, threatened, and disregarded by the machine of irresponsible shortsighted “development”.

Glen Smith: Musician & Wildlife photographer – San Francisco, CA

Please place beavers in the surrogate species category for their protection, and most importantly for the benefit of ecosystem health and survival of many other species, especially critically endangered birds and amphibians. Beaver-constructed habitats create food and water resources not only for local species, but also those which migrate. The wildlife attracted to beavers’ well-maintained dams and ponds are critical for the survival of larger species, too, which depend on smaller species to survive. The importance of beaver engineering cannot be underestimated, also, to mitigate flood and drought made more extreme by climate change, and its anticipated impacts on wildlife in the present and future. This definition of beavers is simply common sense, and long overdue. Help make your local ecosystems resilient by defining beavers as they are, a surrogate species, which is necessary for its local ecosystem health and a great variety of species survival.

Jo Marshall, Children’s author of ‘Twig stories’ – Seattle, WA

Please grant the Beaver (Castor canadensis) status as a Surrogate Species. Probably no other animal is as useful in its support of MULTIPLE species and no other animal CREATES AS MUCH NATURAL HABITAT for them. By protecting the Beaver we get the most bang for our buck because s/he is a natural ally in our efforts to achieve comprehensive conservation. If we make the Beaver a Surrogate Species, they will do the job we would otherwise have to do…and do it with almost no help from us! Please act now.

Kira Od: Sculptor – Sunnyvale, CA

As a citizen who is concerned about the integrity of natural systems and encouraging the peaceful coexistence of humans with wildlife, especially in developed areas, I am writing to urge FWS to list the American beaver (Castor canadensis) as a Surrogate Species in its Technical Guidance on Selecting Species for Design of Landscape-scale Conservation.

The challenges that are posed when beaver activity comes in conflict with human desires for land use are relatively easy to solve and offer good lessons in problem-solving skills, providing a model for learning to coexist with other wildlife. While the beaver may not be large physically, positive cultural associations with it mean that it looms large in the minds of many. Plus, if left undisturbed, beavers tend to stay at a given location for a long period of time, so they have longevity, if this is considered over multiple generations.

Finally, the work that beavers do to keep high water levels and maintain wetlands in the upper reaches of watersheds–work that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars were humans to attempt to replicate it–is invaluable as we come to grips with the effect of climate change on the resources and ecosystem services upon which we all depend. FEMA recognizes the drought conditions that are being visited upon a growing portion of the country every year as natural disasters–meaning that more and more federal funding is being spent providing assistance to farmers, ranchers and neighborhoods affected by drought. Why not save some of this money by letting beavers populate streams largely unmolested and do what they do best–build dams to save water upstream for the benefit of humans, crops and livestock as well as other wildlife? DC

Malcolm Kenton, National Association of Railroad Passengers -Washington D.C.


You realize of course whose comments are still missing?


There are eleven more days for you to convince Fish and Wildlife that beavers are the species that takes care of our wildlife and wetlands and salmon and birds and frogs. You don’t have to be a biologist or a great writer. You don’t have to research the subject for hours. Pipe-fitter, retailer or math teacher, if you are even an occasional reader of this website you should know everything you need to recommend them. Beavers  have done and continue to do so much for us, won’t you lend them your voice? You can send your comments here.

Oh and could this be a bigger coincidence? Comments close the day AFTER this amazing film airs in Canada. Who else thinks everyone at Fish and Wildlife should take a mandatory road trip?