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Earth Notes: The Beaver Ecology and Relocation Center

A beaver trapped beneath chain link
Beaver Ecology and Relocation Center
A beaver trapped for relocation

Beavers are known as ‘ecosystem engineers’ and they fit that job description perfectly. They use their fast-growing teeth to gnaw down whole trees and build elaborate dams, turning running creeks into still ponds. That’s good for desert ecosystems. Many other animals thrive in beaver-created wetlands. The dams also slow spring floods and raise groundwater levels.

But people and beavers don’t always get along. Often, beavers are killed when they plug up the wrong stream or cut down the wrong trees. The Beaver Ecology and Relocation Center in Utah is working to change that, by live-trapping unwanted beavers and finding them new homes.

Beavers live in inter-generational families, with a mother and father who mate for life, adolescent children, and babies called “kits”. The Center’s staff try to trap the entire family and move them together. They spend three days in quarantine to make sure they’re healthy and free of disease. The wait takes place in the “Beaver Bunkhouse,” which has small swimming pools and cozy dens.

Then the family is released into the wild, either on public land, or on the property of a landowner who sees the benefits of stream restoration. The beavers are micro-chipped and given an artificial structure, known as a Beaver Dam Analog, to shelter them while they get their bearings. Some beavers use this structure as a kind of “starter home” and build their dam on top of it. Others scout the area and choose a new location. The program, in partnership with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Forest Service, and Utah State University, protects dozens of beavers every year.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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