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Researchers Say Beavers Are More Than Simple Pests
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Researchers Say Beavers Are More Than Simple Pests

Animals

Researchers Say Beavers Are More Than Simple Pests

Researchers Say Beavers Are More Than Simple Pests
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Most people think of beavers as pests — they cause floods and block irrigation. But as Mel Babik tells NPR's Scott Simon, she's finding a new use for the buck-toothed critters in the Yakima Basin.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Leave it to beavers. Residents and farmers of the Pacific Northwest might sometimes call them

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Damn beavers.

SIMON: And worse because beavers can block irrigation and cause flooding. But it turns out that beavers can be real troopers when it comes to rebuilding endangered fish populations and revitalizing ecosystems.

Mel Babik from the Yakima Basin Beaver Reintroduction Project is one of the people who helped to bring beavers back to areas that could use the bucktoothed touch. Thanks very much for being with us.

MEL BABIK: Yeah. Nice to be here.

SIMON: So what do beavers do that goes so unheralded?

BABIK: They naturally build dams. They're able to store up amazing quantities of water, which helps us later in the season and in our many dominated riffle pool systems, beavers help reconnect these areas by making it better for fish to utilize.

SIMON: Do you direct them? Or is this something they do on their own and you hope to benefit from the results?

BABIK: We're placing beavers in areas where historically they once were and leaving it up to them to find the great places that they need to be.

SIMON: Well, I mean, forgive me - do you just like, steal into creeks in the middle of the night and put a bag over a beaver and take him away and he wakes up somewhere new?

BABIK: No. Typically, we get a call from a land owner lower in the basin, usually in agricultural lands where beavers are damning up irrigation ditches or chewing down apple trees or ornamental trees. Many times we have to remove a beaver and we set live traps. We try to catch the whole colony because beavers have incredibly intense family social bonds. So without taking the whole family colony, they're more likely to go right back to where they once were caught in searching for their family members.

SIMON: Yeah. My notes say that you once had a "Star Wars" named family of beavers?

BABIK: The crew likes to name all of our beavers. It helps us remember where they came from and who was paired with whom. So we had all kinds of names from Princess Lay Down a Tree to Chewbacca and R 2 Tree 2. It helps us bring light to sometimes sad instances where family members may have gotten lost behind.

SIMON: Is there a way in the future of making this relationship work out, programmatically, of learning from the beaver and being able to - if not exactly relocate them, steer them to places where they can do the environment maximum good?

BABIK: We hope to. Some of our project partners are installing beaver dam analogs, which is basically posts driven into the stream bed. And that is kind of a way where farmers, in case they don't really want beavers to come, maybe they can use the impacts of beavers using man-made methods like these post designs. But I expect if we make habitats suitable for beavers, they in turn will find those areas.

SIMON: Mel Babik is the project manager for the Yakima Basin Beaver Reintroduction Project. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

BABIK: Yeah, thank you.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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