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What Can Beavers and Their Habitats Teach Us About Fighting Climate Change?

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The flat-tailed, dam-building beaver is more than just a buck-toothed furry face. They are a keystone species that help fight drought and climate change. Beaver dams keep the landscape wet, even during droughts, and the ponds work as carbon sinks. But these woodland superheroes were hunted almost to extinction in the last century and are still sometimes viewed as pests. Luckily, indigenous communities, who have always recognized beavers’ vital place in the ecosystem, are working with governments to protect and encourage beaver habitats. Watch the episode and then let us know: what can beavers and their habitats teach us about fighting climate change?

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. Click to see this video and lesson plan on KQED Learn.

How do Beavers mitigate climate change?

Beavers are a keystone species – any organism, from animals and plants to bacteria and fungi that play a crucial role in holding a habitat together. A beaver’s main goal in their habitat is to make a pond for themselves to live in. They do so by building a dam and digging a bunch of little canals out from their ponds. What they are really doing, though, is slowing down the flow of water. This not only helps them survive, but it also benefits humans. The slowed-down water has time to sink into the soil and spread out into the floodplain. And so when things like drought or forest fires happen, there’s more stored water in the earth that prevents fires from spreading.

Why did beavers nearly go extinct?


There used to be a BUNCH of beavers on this continent; there were anywhere from 100 to 400 million beavers here before the European fur trade and colonial settlements. But between colonizers building homes near streams and wetlands and also the fact that most Europeans thought beavers were pests and only valued them for their fur, beavers nearly went extinct, with their population shrinking by 90%.

How can we co-exist more effectively with beavers?

Many Indigenous communities here in the U.S. have always known about the positive impacts of beavers. Today, some tribes are working with local governments to help restore beaver populations and building artificial logjams to encourage beavers to come back. Humans and beavers are very similar, so sharing a territory with an animal like that challenges our human desire to be in control. This can be tricky but beavers are just doing what they’re on this earth to do: something that Indigenous people have recognized for years as necessary to human-nature balance. So going forward, how can humans adapt our environment to include beavers and all that they do?


  •  The Beaver Emerges as a Climate-Solving Hero

This article from Scientific American talks about the impact and importance of beavers in helping fight climate change. 

  • Hunted to Extinction, England’s First Wild Beavers in 400 Years Allowed to Stay

This report from NBC News reports on how beavers, once hunted to extinction in England, are being welcomed back because of their positive impact on the environment. 

  • Wildlife Klamath Tribes Want Beavers Back in the Beaver State 

This article from the High Country News discusses how the Klamath tribe is advocating for beavers and the role they play in southern Oregon’s ecosystem. 

  • A World Without Beavers Is a World Without Wildlife We Love 

This article from the Audubon Society talks about the impact and importance of beavers as a keystone species in ecosystems where birds can flourish. 

  • California Launches Beaver Restoration Program to Fight Climate Change 

This article from the Los Angeles Times gives details about California’s plan to restore beaver habitats as a measure to fight climate change. 

  • Keystone Species 

This encyclopedia entry from National Geographic defines keystone species using the beaver as a prime example. 

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