The Beaver Backstory

Imagine a perfect autumn afternoon at Green Springs Inn: that burger is more delicious and the beer more refreshing because you know that sunny deck days are in short supply. A hard rain is a gonna fall, my blue-eyed son, and then there will be snow.

There is another reason why a burger, a beer or a bed on the Green Springs is special. As you savor these simple pleasures, you are surrounded by something close to a complete ecosystem, a web of life that starts under the forest floor and builds from microbiota through symbiotic flora and fauna to apex predators like wolves and mountain lions. The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was created to protect this Noah’s Ark of biodiversity.

But there are gaps. One important bolt of biological fabric was torn out the Northwest 300 years ago when Hudson Bay Company trappers killed off tens of millions of beavers. The Cascades and coastal ranges were left with remnants of their original beaver populations. Farmers, loggers and trappers declared war on the survivors.

One of the remaining beaver families disappeared from our local Parsnip Lakes wetlands in the National Monument around 2005. The Parsnip Lakes system, which was created by beaver activity, has been deteriorating and water levels have been falling since then. But where beavers have once thrived, they can thrive again.

From an ecological viewpoint, beavers are a keystone species. For example, Parsnip Lakes provides habitat to one of the few remaining populations of Oregon spotted frogs. These iconic amphibians have been dying off as the ponds have shrunk or been overrun by vegetation. According to Dr. Michael Parker of SOU, the last remaining frogs failed to reproduce in three of the past five seasonal cycles. He estimates that spotted frogs will become extinct in this area within two years, possibly less.

Spotted frogs are not the only creatures that depend on beavers. Cool, clean water from our basin flows into Jenny Creek and then to the Klamath River, where it supports an ecosystem that includes salmon. Precipitation held in wetlands also seeps into the water tables that feed our springs and wells. As snow-packs decline, high elevation wetlands become more critical for supplying seasonal streams. When wildfires come, as they will, those wetlands serve as crucial firebreaks.

BLM is considering a proposal to bring beavers back to Parsnip Lakes. The agency will listen to the Green Springs community and other Oregonians as they decide whether to act. Watch for more news about this beaver revival initiative.

In the meantime, enjoy your hours on the edge of the wilderness and imagine the unimaginable: beavers return to paradise.