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A Wilder View: Smokey the Beaver? Meet nature’s firefighters

Beavers might just be the heroes we need to combat devastating wildfires.
Posted at 1:47 PM, Aug 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-03 17:30:04-04

MISSOULA - When Smokey the Bear says that only you can prevent wildfires, he's not entirely correct. There's another animal in the forest that works hard every day to fight fires.

When we think of firefighters, we often imagine brave people battling the flames, but in the animal kingdom, a whole different league of firefighters exists — one that possesses unparalleled prowess in taming the wild infernos. And that’s the beaver.

While wildland crews are using chainsaws, beavers are well-equipped with razor-sharp teeth that never stop growing throughout their lives. These teeth are their ultimate firefighting tools.

Beavers, native to both North America and Eurasia, are true ecosystem engineers! Their unique abilities as builders allow them to create channel-spanning dams using wood, stones, and mud, which in turn, create broad ponds and wetlands where they flourish. By building dams, they create a natural firebreak, safeguarding entire ecosystems.

When a wildfire threatens a beaver-influenced wetland, it's met with a barrier of moist vegetation and standing water. This slows down the fire's advance, giving firefighters and nature a fighting chance to control and contain the blaze.

These resourceful creatures influence the landscape further by promoting the growth of relatively fire-resistant vegetation. The waterlogged environment they create encourages plants like willows and aspens to thrive, boasting a high moisture content that can withstand the ravages of fire.

Areas with beaver dams experience three times less land loss compared to those without beavers.

While people have Red Cross shelters, beaver dams serve as ribbons of fire-resistant riparian corridors, providing essential temporary shelter for countless species unable to escape the wrath of wildfires. From fish and amphibians to small mammals and birds, the beavers' engineering skills offer a lifeline to these animals.

With climate change affecting our planet, understanding the impact of these incredible creatures becomes even more critical. Beaver conservation efforts and understanding their ecological significance can make a real difference in preserving biodiversity and protecting our environment.

Imagine the potential for beavers to create fire-resistant landscape patches in regions facing increased wildfire risks. They might just be the heroes we need to combat these devastating fires.