Love ponds - but not so much beavers? Like when they flood your dam and chew down shoreline trees? Here's a book to change your mind, or at least put things in perspective. Consider the eco-enriching impact beavers have on the environment, now and in the past, in a new book called Eager, The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb (Chelsea Green). It's the best book I've read about beavers since I fell for these instinctive pond builders back in the 1980s, via many classic beaver histories by Mari Sandoz, Hope Ryden, Enos Mills, Henry Lewis Morgan, and more. Goldfarb now joins that distinguished list. (Photo above by Ben Goldfarb)
When I was first learning basic pond building skills, I found that beavers had a lot to teach me. And not just about pond building, where they are instinctive masters, from spillways to water gathering to sediment control. But also about their positive impact on the environment. Wetland creation, soil building, flood reduction, wildlife enhancement, fire control: they do it all and more. If you're not familiar with beaver history and engineering, I envy you the discovery of this critter's influence. And for drama, the beaver's trip to the brink of extinction and back is epic. It's all in Eager.
Topics vary from month to month and provide great information when researching where you want to build a pond, or how to keep it clean. Other areas of interest are pond use for more than swimming, and how to keep fish happy in your pond.
Ben Goldfarb seems to have sensed a gap in beaver literature since the 1980s, and does a great service in catching us up on everything from beaver history to the latest in transporting beavers from trouble spots (causing flooding, etc.) to places where they can do more good by creating wetlands and wildlife habitat, flood control, and wildfire protection.
Beaver history is fascinating, and for all its impact, much overlooked. The settlement of the American colonies, and later territories and states, depended on the wealth of beaver fur sold to England, in exchange for currency and traded goods. And not only for fur coats, but to be felted for the famous beaver hat, glandular oil used for medicines and scents, the tail for meat. Many historians credit the beaver trade for the wealth that founded the U.S. and Canada.
Even after beavers were trapped to the brink of extinction, Canada and the United States were able to prosper on another beaver legacy: land. For thousands of years, before humans crawled out of the mud, beavers were creating ponds, and moving on when ponds silted in and food supplies dwindled, leaving behind acreage enriched by their sediment trapping ponds. These lands became the rich grazing prairies, crop lands and forests that made North America such an agricultural treasure.
Ben Goldfarb tells this story by trekking streams, beaver ponds, marshes, and wetlands across the U.S. and Great Britain, and spinning beaver history as he travels; witnessing current beaver activities; and meeting up with a fascinating cast of folks who work with beavers on many levels. Non-lethal beaver control (baffles, scent repellents, tree wraps, live trapping), academic study, preservation, relocation, and as living landscape enhancement tools.
Eager is must reading for anyone who loves ponds and cares about the environment. Words to chew on.