Thursday, December 22, 2022

Bring on the Beavers!

Fast Company, You could build a storm management system for $2 million—or you could use beavers "Environmental restoration is a multibillion-dollar business. In her book “Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America,” Leilla Philip explores how the rodents can provide crucial ecosystem services, for free."

McGill is the founder of a visionary environmental restoration company called Ecotone, based in Forest Park, Maryland. A slim man dressed in jeans and a green T-shirt, he exudes enthusiasm and confidence. McGill gives a quick nod then disappears into a thicket of willows.
. . .
McGill is proud to be known in the environmental restoration industry as the “beaver whisperer.” He’s evangelical in his belief that beavers can help solve environmental problems. He thinks it is a tragedy that they are part of our history, but not part of our culture. Here in the Chesapeake watershed, in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey where he does most of his work, he has been striving since 2016 to help shift the culture around beavers and stream restoration by showcasing what he calls the “ecosystem services” of beavers. Let the rodents do the work is one of his mottos.

He believes it is possible to “reseed” the East Coast landscape with beaver, and he has done enough restoration work with them now to prove that these efforts work and can make a difference, saving his clients, which include individual landowners, farmers, towns, and municipalities, a great deal of money. Environmental restoration is now a multibillion- dollar business throughout the United States, but especially in Maryland where in part due to the incredible rate of development, every county is now under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency to help clean the water running into the Chesapeake Bay.
. . .
“To build a storm water management pond with that kind of water retention would cost one to two million dollars,” he says matter-of-factly. I am visibly stunned at the price. “One to two million?”

“Yes,” answers McGill. “You have to build the embankment, the core, an outlet structure, you have to design and plan the whole thing. We’ve built those; we have contracts with counties throughout Maryland where it is one after the other. But beavers did all this . . .” He swings his arm in a wide gesture for emphasis. Moira, who has been listening, interjects with a grin, “For zero dollars!” She laughs, and so does McGill, both of them energized and delighted by this thought.

If he is worried about losing business because beavers can create storm-water retention ponds for about a million dollars cheaper than his company can, McGill does not show it.

“We do stormwater management, construction, renovation, fire retention areas, we do a lot of stream wetland restoration,” he continues, “but the thing is the water quality benefits of a beaver pond are very much similar to what we want to see in an engineered storm management pond.”

I like the idea of letting beavers spread, but it's not without issues. Beavers build their dams and lodges for their own reasons, not your's or anyone else's. Mostly that reason is to get access to the food they eat (the cambium of trees and shrubs) by water. When beavers get started in an area, they progressively strip the woody vegetation from around their ponds until it's too far, or too dangerous to walk or waddle from the water to the food and back. Once it's not longer practical for them to get the food, they move to a new area. Not exactly desirable for a storm control system. In an area populated by humans, they're apt to cut down and eat decorative trees. Also, they really don't know or understand they people have some structure they don't want flooded, like roads, back yards, power stations, and scientific research projects.

On the plus side, they produce an excellent pelt, good for making top hats, or fur coats, and, in a pinch, they can be eaten. I hear the tail is a real treat, though I have no personal experience. 

The Wombat has Rule 5 Monday: St. Stephen’s Day Edition up and running at The Other McCain.

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