Bringing Beaver Back

The Intuitive Science of Watershed Restoration

Douglas Balmain
3 min readDec 1, 2021
Photo by Tim Umphreys on Unsplash.

As I walk through our arid Western landscapes, I try to imagine how the land might have looked prior to European influence. It would be unrecognizable in comparison to the land as we now know it. How wondrous it would be to see this continent’s wild ecosystems as they had evolved to be. Beaver in every drainage, 60 million bison fertilizing the grasslands, old-growth forest networks, grizzlies and elk in the lowlands, abundant plant and species diversity: Balance and Abundance.

“It’s estimated that 400 million [beaver] lived on the continent. That breaks down to between 5 and 30 beaver for every kilometer of stream or river on the continent.” [1]

The wholesale slaughter of beaver began in the 16th century when European explorers arrived and entered into trade relations with Indigenous tribes. The Eurasian beaver population had already been decimated in most of the U.K. and European countries. When the colonial-explorers learned of the continent’s dense population of North American beaver, the species was immediately targeted by extractive foreign industries. The European perfume industry wanted the castoreum from the beaver’s scent glands and the fashion industry wanted their pelts, primarily for high-fashion beaver hats.