Good Beaver, Bad Beaver, Happy Beaver, Sad Beaver

by Susan Eirich, Ph.D.

A call came – can we take a baby beaver? Yes.

When it arrived it was tiny – close to a newborn. It was crying piteously. There was no one in the state available to care for it except us and we did our very best. Jean used his special energy to try to infuse life force into it, spending hours trying to get her to take a bottle. I had a special pouch made so that I could carry her with me close to my beating heart for the sense of companionship so crucial to beavers. We put fresh and crushed willow with her for a familiar smell in case that would give her ease.

Despite our best efforts, research, vet care, the baby beaver didn’t make it. The last two nights, realizing it wasn’t thriving, I made a bed on the floor next to her to give her companionship in case it would help, and so at least she wouldn’t die alone, uncared for. She was so helpless and innocent. It was a very hard loss.

We buried her next to our newly finished beaver pond, built to help Idaho Fish and Game hold “problem” beavers until they could be relocated to an area where they would be accepted. At least she would be close to her own kind in some way. If there is an overarching “beaver clan” energetic blueprint from which individual beavers come into physical form, as some fascinating scientists have posited, they could look after; welcome, its little spirit.

Four days later we received two transplant beavers. If only they had come four days sooner! Perhaps they could have adopted and groomed and loved that little one into survival with instinctive beaver knowledge of its needs that we were so sadly lacking as humans. Needs so critical during the very early days of infancy.

Would they have looked after her? I have only two incidents to give a clue and both suggested yes. Last year we received a mother and young one. A few days later Fish and Game brought us a large, unrelated male beaver. We put him in the pond with trepidation. Although the pond is large and we have two “dens” for just this eventuality, what would happen? After a bit of time orienting himself from a trap to a strange new pond, he made a beeline towards the baby. We held our breath. The answer is in the accompanying photo.

Bonded Beavers – Beavers from different locations forming family bonds before relocation | Photo by Earthfire

A few days ago we received our first beaver of this year, a juvenile. He wouldn’t eat the first few days and we worried. Not again! But being captured and probably removed from other beavers, depression seemed a normal response. The third day we saw that the fresh aspens trees we had cut were partially stripped of bark. Relief!

Two days later Fish and Game trapped a massive 70 pound beaver. How he managed to fit into the trap is a wonder. We released his very large self into the pond and waited. This was at 10:40AM. At 12:30 the young beaver was spotted riding on the older beaver’s back. We checked repeatedly for the rest of the day, just to be sure, but, bonded they were. They have spent most of their time together since. We do not know if they were somehow related or not. The traps were set about ¼ mile apart so it is a possibility.

A 70 lbs beaver bonding with yearling | Photo by Earthfire

How did the baby beaver come to us? It’s parents were shot. The shooter took no pleasure in this. The property owners complained to the Department that the beavers were eating their trees and requested their removal. The beavers were located in an area that would be very difficult to live-trap. Also, live-trapping requires someone to check the traps daily, which the Department did not have the resources to do, especially given the remote location requiring a couple of hours round-trip driving a day. The owners wanted them gone – one way or another they were going to be removed.

The gentleman charged with this task looked around and in the beaver lodge after shooting the parents and found this tiny baby. Touched, he brought it home to his little girl and called Fish and Game to see who could take it. They referred him to us. A couple of days later he brought it, holding it tenderly. This was not a bad or heartless man. I think having to do this hurt his soul. The way laws are written and rights conceived, we humans are basically allowed to kill anything we like on our property. The increasing number of us all wanting what we want and doing as we please, interfering with nature’s patterns, is not a recipe for success for sustainability. It is death by a thousand tiny cuts.

Two new beavers bonding at Earthfire’s holding facility | Photo by Earthfire

The good news – we are waking up to seeing the immense value of beavers. Beavers are the wetland engineers that created much of the American landscape. American Indians called them the “sacred center of the land” because they create cradles of life – watery habitat that supports biodiversity that rivals that of tropical rainforests. They sponge up floodwater, alleviate droughts and floods, lessen erosion, raise the water table, and act as “earth’s kidneys”.

Beaver dam by the Teton Mountains | Stock Photo

Beavers create wetlands and animal homes. Thus beavers are good. They may not create wetlands exactly where we want them. Thus beavers are bad. Beavers bring back wildlife for hunting. Thus beavers are good. Beavers eat trees we plant for landscaping. Thus beavers are bad. Or – beavers are ok as long as they are not on my land. Aieee! The conflicting positons of humans (when we operate from our own rather myopic view of things) cause endless problems for wildlife, impossible situations for those charged with trying to “balance” the needs of humans and wildlife – and for ourselves. We cannot continually use and create the earth the way we want it – there are consequences. Didn’t our mother or fathers teach us that – that we can’t have everything our own way? That it is good to share and compromise. It creates a successful community. That we should consider the consequences of our actions as far as we can see them. Remember the book All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten: Share. Play fair. We need to apply this to wildlife – share the land. Play fair – leave something for them and consider their lives, precious to them. And on the fair play side, beavers are gentle, very affectionate creatures with intense family bonds. So intense that they may die of depression if separated from their families and the constant loving interaction and grooming that binds them together. This needs to be considered..

What we here at Earthfire can do is use the energy from our grief at the devastation wrought upon this family and the loss of that tiny fragile lovely little baby to try to save more beavers; educate more people. There are alternatives to killing them and destroying a family. There are ways to educate people to the relative value of beavers creating wetland versus the landscaping they hold as an ideal in their minds. This is part of a larger movement to see all Life as sacred and interconnected and to live accordingly. Even if we don’t realize the importance of the animals we nearly extirpated for fur hats, the approach that all Life is sacred and should be treated with respect and restraint, will save us from what we don’t know until we finally do know it. Operating from the principle that all life is sacred is practical.

Click here for frequently asked beaver questions.

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

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