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Filbert the beaver at the Oregon Zoo. Image: Oregon Zoo/Instagram
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer
After centuries of overhunting, beavers may receive new protections in the Beaver State. Two bills have been introduced to the Oregon Legislative Assembly that would ban the killing of beavers on federally managed public land and exclude beavers from being classified as predatory animals.
Experts hope that protected beaver populations will improve the health of their entire ecosystem, improving water quality, fish populations and buffering the region against extreme wildfires.
The efforts, spearheaded by the Klamath Tribes in Southern Oregon and Northern California, aim to improve ecosystems and restore Tribal fishing rights.
Why This Matters: The Klamath Tribes have been struggling to restore suckerfish populations to the region for decades. The C’waam and Koptu species of suckerfish have always been an essential food for local communities, but their populations, once in the millions, are now down to below 45,000.
This decline threatens the wellbeing of local Indigenous communities, and past efforts, including raising fish in captivity before releasing them in the lakes, monitoring water quality, and bringing a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, haven’t succeeded. Now, communities are turning to beavers to save these ecosystems, but they’ll have to fight existing legislation to do so.
Those Dam Beavers…
The shallow lake wetland ecosystem that the suckerfish call home has been damaged due to human activity and centuries of beaver hunting. The Oregon government classifies beavers as predators, allowing them to be hunted and trapped on private land across the state.
“You can kill as many as you want, whenever you want, however you want, and you don’t have to tell anyone about it,” explained Jakob Shockey, the executive director of The Beaver Coalition. Private landowners often don’t want beavers on their property, but some beavers may need to be relocated onto private property to restore ecosystem health.
To do that, current residents must go through a lengthy permit process. The two bills headed to the state legislature would remove beavers from the predator list and create tighter policies around how, when, and where they can be killed.
This will grant beavers more safety on private property and allow for easier relocation.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been working with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians to move nuisance beavers onto federally managed land.
Tribal leaders hope that by increasing beaver populations and natural dams, they can restore the wetlands to their former glory.
“If there is continuous standing water here, we hope fish biodiversity would increase, and we would have an opportunity for tribal fishing rights to return,” said Alex Gonyaw, senior fisheries biologist for the Klamath Tribes in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
The project will be arduous, and beavers are finicky creatures, but experts say they could offer a well-needed rewind to a healthier time in the Oregon wilderness. “We’re talking about righting the wrong that has been done by past land management,” said Carl Scheeler, a wildlife program manager for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. “We can reset things back to far enough where the beaver can then take over and recreate the habitat they used to create all over North America.”
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