Logic, Spirit, Beavers

It seems so logical.

Each winter, snowfall accumulates high on our Oregon mountains. Each summer, that huge frozen reservoir releases a steady flow of cool, fresh water that slakes our thirst, waters our crops, and sustains our salmon.

But our winters are trending warmer and our snowpack is shrinking. As snow turns to rain, winter and spring storms bring high waters. Summers grow longer and dryer. Over the past decade, we have seen floods and landslides, years of drought and increasingly destructive wildfires. We know that more is coming.

Beavers can help. If beavers were to repopulate the uplands and headwaters where they thrived three centuries ago, they would build vast sponges to hold precipitation that is now draining rapidly into the sea. Their ponds and wetlands would serve as reservoirs, fish incubators, and firebreaks. They would cushion the impact of a changing climate.

This could happen soon. Given sufficient habitat, beavers multiply quickly … unless people kill them.

At this point, logic fails. People kill beavers, efficiently and relentlessly. We have been killing beavers on an industrial scale in North America for 300 years. Today only remnants of the original beaver millions remain but the killing continues.

Oregon, the Beaver State, has enshrined beaver extermination in laws and regulations. If you are an adult Oregonian, you can purchase a $53 license that entitles you to trap an unlimited number of beavers on public lands in most rural counties. If you are a private landowner, such as a timber products corporation, your relationship with beavers is governed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. ODA designates beavers as “predators,” which means that you can kill beavers on your land any day of the year. No permit is required.

Perhaps the time has come to consider beavers from a spiritual viewpoint.

Humans and beavers have much in common. For example, we both build things. But after we get past mating for life and bearing live young, Castor canadensis and Homo sapiens diverge quickly. Humans see themselves as conquering nature. Beavers are nature. People tend to create environments that are suitable for automobiles and subdivisions, which means that most other living things are excluded. Beavers create habitat that supports a complex web of life. Ironically, that web — also known as an ecosystem — ultimately includes humans.

Spirituality involves understanding that we are part of something greater than ourselves, variously referred to as God or nature or everything. Beavers show us the meaning of being connected. Can we save ourselves by becoming one with beavers? Let’s give it a shot.

Welcome to the Church of the Beaver.