Beavers building Arctic habitat benefit northern moving wildlife but cause problems for humans

The article is hugely (as demonstrated in the 917 comments that have been filed so far) incomplete. The beavers are not responsible for the rising temperatures that are causing the Arctic thermafrost/tundra to thaw. The dams the beavers are building on top of the newly thawed areas are producing growing ponds/lakes and wetlands that will provide useful habitat for the wildlife that is being forced north by rising temperatures.

BEAVERS ARE A GOOD THING FOR WILDLIFE AND THE PLANET. Sometimes their dams produce backed up water or wetlands that are inconvenient for human development, pre-existing or planned. But, in this case, beavers are doing what humans either can’t or won’t do — providing a place for desperate wildlife to prepare new homes.

The second article talks about the downside of beavers near human habitation.

Photos from space show 11,000 beavers are wreaking havoc on the Alaskan tundra as savagely as wildfire

Morgan McFall-Johnsen

Tue, January 3, 2023 at 5:15 PM EST

two beavers chew sticks in water
A pair of beavers work over some branches in shallow water south of Glennallen in central Alaska.Ken Tape
  • Beavers are invading Alaska’s Arctic tundra as it warms, transforming the landscape like wildfire.
  • Satellite images show rivers turning into trains of lush ponds as beavers build their dams.
  • The animals are taking advantage of climate change, but their dams could also accelerate warming.

Beavers are taking over the Alaskan tundra, completely transforming its waterways, and accelerating climate change in the Arctic.

The changes are so sudden and drastic that they’re clearly visible from space.

As the Arctic tundra warms, woody plants are growing along its rivers and streams, creating perfect habitats for beavers.

As the furry rodents move into these waterways, they make themselves at home by doing what they do best: chewing and carrying wood to build dams, and clogging rapid rivers and streams to make lush ponds.

What was once a thin line of water cutting across the tundra has become a train of bulbous beaver ponds:

juxtaposed aerial images show a stream cutting across land in 1980 and a chain of ponds in its place in 2019
An aerial image from 1980 shows a tundra stream on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula flowing in the direction of the blue arrow. A satellite image from 2019 shows how beaver dams have turned the stream into a chain of ponds. Pink arrows point to prominent dams.Ken Tape et al./Scientific Reports/Worldview satellite/Imagery © 2022 Maxar, Inc.

“There’s not even a lot of other animals that leave a footprint you can see from space,” Ken Tape, an ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told Insider. “There is one, and they’re called humans. The funny thing is that humans could not get a permit to do what beavers are now doing in this state.”

This swimming, furry rodent’s invasion of the North American tundra is a mixed bag. The beaver ponds create lush oases that could increase biodiversity, but they also play a role in accelerating the climate crisis.

11,000 new beaver ponds

pond with beaver dam and mound of sticks in the middle surrounded by bright green shrubs with mountains in background
A beaver dam forms a pool encircling a beaver lodge near the Denali Highway in the Alaska Range.Ken Tape

Tape and his colleagues assessed aerial photos from the early 1950s and found no signs of beaver presence in Alaska’s Arctic tundra. The first signs of beavers appeared in 1980 imagery. In satellite imagery from the 2000s and 2010s, the beaver ponds doubled.

All in all, satellites reveal more than 11,000 beaver ponds have appeared across the tundra.

three satellite images of a lake show it growing larger over time
A lake near Kotzebue, Alaska, in (left to right) 2002, 2012, and 2019. Red arrows show where beavers built a dam, which more than doubled the size of the lake. Yellow arrows show areas of likely permafrost thaw.Environmental Research Letters/Imagery © DigitalGlobe

“All of western Alaska is now really densely populated with beaver ponds,” Tape said.

That’s consistent with what Indigenous people in the area have observed. It’s especially obvious on the ground in towns like Kotzebue, where there were no beavers 20 years ago, and now they’re everywhere, Tape said.

beavers crawl on a frozen pond beneath pine trees
Beavers emerge through holes in the ice around their lodge in Goldstream Valley, near Fairbanks, in April.Ken Tape

The researchers published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports in May. Tape presented the research at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December, just as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its annual warning of how quickly the Arctic is succumbing to climate change.

From space, Alaska’s beavers are as influential as wildfires

beaver dam made of sticks stretches across a creek
A beaver dam blocks a creek off the Denali Highway in central Alaska.Ken Tape

Tape had previously used satellite imagery to look for changes in vegetation — slow and subtle shifts in the appearance of the tundra.

So he was floored when he saw beaver-engineering projects completely transforming landscapes across Alaska.

“It was like hitting the ecosystem over the head with a hammer,” he said.

The severity and speed of beavers’ footprint on the landscape, as seen from space, is more akin to wildfire, Tape said.

side by side satellite images show a thin tundra stream transformed by beaver ponds
Beaver engineering dramatically altered a tundra stream on the Seward Peninsula in western Alaska between 2003 and 2016. The blue arrow shows flow direction, and magenta arrows denote dams.NOAA / Imagery © 2021 Maxar

The satellite images answer two key questions for studying any animal population: Where are they? And how many of them are there?

The most exciting question lies ahead, though: How exactly are the beavers changing everything around them?

From fish and vegetation, to water flow and water quality, to all the downstream effects that might have, there’s a lot left to study.

Champions of the new Arctic

beaver swims through smooth water
A beaver swims across a pond south of Glennallen in central Alaska.Ken Tape

Beaver ponds are warm oases in the tundra, since the still, deep water holds more heat than the rushing rivers that previously cut through.

Tape expects these pond areas will start to resemble boreal forest more than tundra. The still water will likely attract waterfowl and new species of fish.

two swans in a colorful pond off a river reflecting pink clouds and pine trees
A pair of swans paddle in a beaver pond off the Chulitna River in central Alaska.Ken Tape

“If you like the Arctic the way it was, the old Arctic, then beavers are bad for that. Whereas if you kind of embrace the new Arctic, well, then beavers are one of your champions,” Tape said.

One thing that’s clearly unlikeable about the new Arctic is the thawing of permafrost — layers of soil that normally stay frozen year-round. Permafrost covers about one-quarter of the northern hemisphere, including nearly 85% of Alaska.

As temperatures rise, the permafrost thaws and releases the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

bright blue water with beaver lodge surrounded by bright green shrubs
Beaver ponds create warm spots in Alaska’s tundra.Ken Tape

That’s the one beaver impact that Tape’s team is sure of: Beaver ponds are thawing the surrounding permafrost, exacerbating the climate crisis. Just how much, is not yet clear.

New frontiers for pioneering beavers

More and more beavers will likely spread through the tundra in the future, continuing to move north as the Arctic warms.

three birds fly low over an icy stream
A Dunlin and Sandpipers search for food near Teshekpuk Lake in Alaska’ North Slope.Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The northernmost strip of Alaska, north of the Brooks mountain range, is still virtually beaver-free, Tape said. But it may not stay that way for long. Dense populations of beavers are just on the other side of the mountains.

“All they have to do is swim downstream,” Tape said. “If they find the habitat there — in other words, if it’s warm enough, if the shrubs are tall enough, if there’s enough unfrozen water in winter — then they’re going to forever change that place.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Beavers expanding north bring damming consequences for Inuit and wildlife

Inuit leading research and solutions to overpopulation of buck-toothed rodents

Rachel Watts · CBC News · Posted: Dec 31, 2022 4:00 AM ET | Last Updated: January 2

A beaver's head pops up out of the water.
Beavers are expanding north into Nunavik and the consequences are being felt by wildlife and Inuit. (Submitted by Mikhaela Neelin)

Eddie Kumarluk remembers a time when thousands of Arctic char swam in the Pamiullujusiup Lake near Umiujaq, Que.

In the 1970s, there was a local who set up his nets in the winter, recalled Kumarluk, manager of the hunting, fishing and trapping association of the community in Quebec’s northern Nunavik region.

“He used to catch nothing but Arctic char,” said Kumarluk. “It’s one of our main foods that we like so much, and they have been in decline in recent years. We have hardly caught any.”

What he described as a once plentiful area for fishers is no more. Newly arrived beavers are to blame.

The buck-toothed rodents have been expanding north over the past few decades — now found in parts of Nunavik, past the treeline.

Experts say they are travelling out of survival instincts, but the move has a cost on wildlife and the traditional ways of life for Inuit.

Studying beavers in the North 

Locals began noticing the encroaching animals as early as the 1970s and ’80s, says Kumarluk.

Ten to 15 years ago, they started finding beaver dams built along the lakes. From there, they realized the extent of the damage caused by the semiaquatic animals — and the need to study their impact on the northern environment.

A group of people smile at the camera
Mikhaela Neelin, bottom left, and Eddie Kumarluk, second from top left, are some of the representatives who attended the Arctic Beaver Observation Network conference in Yellowknife last month. (Submitted by Mikhaela Neelin)

Kumarluk says it’s the “architecture” of the dam that poses a problem to Arctic char specifically.

“They’re not as strong as salmon. Salmon can jump over a beaver dam … but Arctic [char] are weaker,” said Kumarluk, adding that the beavers’ presence has become a concern for the community.

“We don’t know how many rivers they have blocked or dammed and we have so much work ahead of us,” said Kumarluk. “We’re doing what we can.”

Part of the effort has been on securing funding to dismantle the dams to restore proper water flow to the lakes.

A beaver dam sits on the edge of a river.
Construction of beaver dams and lodges can impact wildlife, says Mikhaela Neelin. (Submitted by Mikhaela Neelin)

Climate change factor in beavers’ move 

Some communities, such as Umiujaq, are particularly at risk to be impacted by beaver expansion because of the geography, says Mikhaela Neelin, director of the Nunavik Hunting Fishing Trapping Association.

Umiujaq is one of the communities located just north of the treeline — the edge of the habitat where trees are capable of growing.

“In the tundra and a lot of regions, they’re seeing beavers appear there for the first time,” said Neelin, adding that the consequences are a mixed bag.

“It’s not black and white … beavers are often pretty beneficial. They do a lot,” said Neelin.

However, she notes the negative consequences are more severe in the North.

“[Arctic char] migrate into the lake and even one big dam could really affect a fishing area,” said Neelin.

Beavers might also affect the quality of the water, says Neelin. As water systems and rivers get dammed, there is concern over whether water from the lake or river could still be consumed without treatment.

Small bushes and plants grow alongside a river.
The presence of shrubs has increased in Nunavik, making for a good environment for beavers. (Submitted by Mikhaela Neelin)

Part of the problem has to do with what Neelin calls the “shrubification” of Nunavik — with more willows and small branches growing in the region because of a warming environment.

“Willows for example, they would be at ankle height. Some of them are now at human height and with that amount of deciduous material beavers are able to survive in areas that they couldn’t before,” said Neelin.

“Climate change is really increasing the height.… So that’s a huge impact on beavers moving northwards.”

Finding solutions

Kumarluk says beavers are also expanding north out of survival instincts due to human activity such as hunting.

Two people wade through a river that comes up just past their knees.
Makivik Corporation conducted some summer fieldwork in 2022 on beaver expansion. (Mathilde Lapointe St-Pierre)

“The Inuit, we hardly work on [beavers],” Kumarluk says. “We don’t bother them.”

Kumarluk and Neelin represented Nunavik at a conference on the beaver’s Arctic expansion in Yellowknife last month.

Kumarluk says they recently bought a drone to survey the area and are trying to get a Cree elder to come to Umiujaq to teach the community how to control its growing beaver population.

“We really wish to teach the youngsters, the young people, even elders, how to trap beavers so that maybe we can control at least part of it,” said Kumarluk.

“Hopefully we will be able to get more funding.”


Rachel Watts, CBC journalist

Rachel Watts is a journalist with CBC News in Quebec City. Originally from Montreal, she enjoys covering stories in the province of Quebec.

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