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long ago, in a country far, far away.......

 
duane hennon
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there were Beaver Wars!



What Were The Beaver Wars?

North America wasn't always split between three countries. Before the US was even born it was home to political discourse and tribal wars. One of which is often never discussed, the Beaver Wars.
 
Marco Banks
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The long-term ramifications of the beaver wars completely changed North America.

Eric Wolf's seminal book, "Europe and the People Without History" tells the story of the massive movement of native peoples over two centuries as they hunted the beaver to near extinction, and one anther in the quest for new territory all the way from present day Northern Canada to Northern Mexico. Millions of native peoples were killed, displaced and removed from their homelands, pushed out in the ongoing quest for control of the coveted beaver trade.

Environmentally, the relentless trapping of hundreds of millions of beavers completely changed the hydrology of North America on a micro and macro scale. Imagine pre-Colombian North America, with 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 (or more) beaver dams, regulating every little stream from Alaska to Mexico, creating countless wetlands, and mitigating soil erosion. These little engineers were responsible for the amazing hydrological system that captured water, sank it into the ground, infiltrated it to become ground water, charging springs and keeping rivers flowing 12 months of the year. Even in places that we would consider arid desert ecosystems (Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada), there were millions of beavers doing their thing ---- capturing water, creating habitat for other wildlife, filling in excised streams, sequestering carbon in wetlands so it wouldn't just wash down stream . . .

The beaver pelts were used to make felt hats. Beaver felt was treated with mercury and turned into stylish bowlers and other mens' hats. (Mercury, in turn, poisoned those who worked in the beaver-felt trade, causing a variety of neural ailments, hence the term "Mad as a hatter".) European men just had to have their beaver felt hats, so the traders and trappers continued to push further and further west in search of new beavers to hunt.

When you take out a keystone species like the beaver, it's just a matter of time till the system begins to collapse. Water is no longer held in the landscape, but rushes down the watersheds as quickly as it can. Streams are excised, and deep channels are cut into the earth where wide and meandering streams once captured soil in the deep, fertile floodplains created by the countless beaver dams.

There is a growing awareness by various states (Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado) that we need to re-introduce beavers back into the ecosystem if we want to restore the hydrology that once existed. This will have profound long-term ramifications for flood prevention, sequestering water and carbon, and creating habitat for hundreds of other species that thrive in the beaver's world. I would love to see 10,000 new beaver dams being built (with the helpful nudge of cooperating humans) across North America every year.
 
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