Saturday, April 9, 2011

Beaver Gurus

The Lands Council sees larger benefits from relocation project

Restoration, as we learned in Part 1 involves a flawed change — improvement, development or rehabilitation of an imperfect natural world for human needs.

So, The Lands Council and other conservation programs have this juggling act to muscle through – saving forests for the value of free-flowing rivers (that empty into the sea – what poor design by nature is that?) in a forest area where very limited human activity is permitted or possible in order to have nature as nature intended.

The Beaver Solution is one of TLC’s restorative conservation projects, and here at DTE we have the benefit of shared journalism as Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine has graciously given us the original magazine piece I wrote for them at their request: “Beaver Fever: How Spokane’s Lands Council is Deploying Nature’s Dam Builders to Help Save Water.”

You will see how the beaver’s role in making soil, packing in water, and creating meadows had been eviscerated through the almost near extirpation of the North American species through trapping. More than 90 million beavers were plying their trade before the arrival of Christianity, the resource Crusade, and Manifest Destiny.

The beaver project the Lands Council is managing is a form of environmental restoration coming from several places and motivations. There is that utilitarian necessity where the beavers are trapped in one area where they have been deemed a “nuisance” (that in itself speaks volumes to anthropomorphic and non-holistic thinking when it comes to the rights of nature) and then placed in “approved” locales where they will both supposedly thrive and then also do their magic by building dams and helping the State of Washington store water.

As Executive Director Mike Petersen states, it’s much less expensive than building these series of dams, impoundment systems and other intrusive hydrological engineering features. The underlying result might be more beavers, more habitat that they create at the edge, and a full-on systems thinking approach later in this century when things really get tough carrying capacity-wise.

Can we develop a decent framework for private companies, governmental agencies and average citizens to listen to the beaver’s voice, the voice of earth’s all other non-human inhabitants?

The problem for some deep ecologists like myself is that we as a species fail to hear the voices of non-humans and therefore fail to look at systematic elements of ecology. How can we not build into all environmental policy the first step — seeking out and listening to the earth’s voice?

Can the reader imagine having those supercilious and destructive-in-their-earth-razing bidding county commissioners even consider restorative conservation by seeking out earth’s voice rather than looking exclusively at the human profit margin (bottom line) regarding what course of action to take in restoring wetlands, forests, open plains?

The Beaver Solution is taking the restorative process beyond utilitarian and wise-use boundaries. Maybe those busy rodents speak to the very essence of human existence — defined by humanity’s ever more explicit involvement in highly complex systems of biological, geophysical and atmospheric “relational” events.

There is a certain metaphysical fluidity in the Beaver Solution if we look beyond the tokenism of helping Washington people with water. TLC is looking at the rivers, the rights of waterfowl, the rights of fish species, the rights of the entire ecosystem staying viable and vibrant using nature’s dam builders.

Beavers as Buddhist philosophers – helping us recognize their inherent worth and also helping us to break this line of thinking: human ingenuity is capable of complete technological fixes of degraded environments with no attention to all species.

Human solutions to make the natural whole again are just that — human solutions. The beaver is the bridge to understanding the entire natural web or eco-web.

The beaver as moral guide? Why not. Why and how did we get in this position of degraded wetlands and water shortages in the first place? Almost all wetlands are gone, but how and why? Species are disappearing because of meadows and ponds paved over and filled in. Why?

We have to listen to the victim, and begin this restoration with the intent of not degrading ecosystems again.

Can you imagine city council members, the board members of Avista, coal mine companies’ CEOs, or governmental fisheries experts looking at all their actions first in the light of how we must recognize our equality among the living beings? That we have a universal kinship of life with beavers. That our role is to not dominate, exploit, or destroy but to work within nature’s limits.

Man, then the beaver becomes the ultimate sage and spirit presence in all us all.

Until that transformation, for now, it’s one creek bed and one acre at a time.

This is the second of two parts examining a project by The Lands Council which relocates beavers and uses them to help rehabilitate wetlands.

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