The Sur­pris­ing, Se­cret Life of Beavers and Why They Mat­ter

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews | Climate Change -

Ben Gold­farb, Chelsea Green Pub­lish­ing (JUNE) Hard­cover $24.95 (304pp), 978-1-60358-739-6

En­vi­ron­men­tal jour­nal­ist Ben Gold­farb’s lively and ed­u­ca­tional Ea­ger shows why beavers should be re­spected as “ecosys­tem engi­neers.”

Gold­farb is a fan of beavers, but he ad­mits that they are not loved by all. To some, he writes, “beavers still ap­pear more men­ac­ing than mu­nif­i­cent.” This book is an ex­cel­lent an­ti­dote to that at­ti­tude. It traces the his­tory of beavers, ty­ing their evo­lu­tion to the col­o­niza­tion of North Amer­ica, and shows their pos­i­tive im­pact on the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. Gold­farb also un­cov­ers how hu­mans who rec­og­nize beavers’ im­por­tance help by re­lo­cat­ing them to ar­eas where they can do the most good.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing en­light­en­ing, Ea­ger is filled with un­usual beaver-re­lated sto­ries. One can learn about “the world’s largest col­lec­tion of beaver­themed” items (it’s lo­cated in Martinez, Cal­i­for­nia), and “one of the largest beaver re­lo­ca­tions ever un­der­taken” (it took place from 1986 to 1999 to the north of Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park).

Per­haps most in­ter­est­ingly, Ea­ger ad­dresses both the pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives of the beaver­hu­man-ecol­ogy re­la­tion­ship. Gold­farb pon­ders im­por­tant is­sues like “whether it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to build ar­ti­fi­cial beaver dams in na­tional parks.” He also dis­cusses the pos­si­ble down­side of beaver-based restora­tion: “The land­scapes where beavers can do the most good aren’t al­ways ready for them.”

The au­thor per­cep­tively and elo­quently con­cludes that, while beavers were al­most oblit­er­ated in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury and were saved by hu­mans, now “it’s we who need their help—to store and clean wa­ter, to re­build flood de­fenses, to re­pair de­graded rivers, to re­vive bio­di­ver­sity.”

Ea­ger of­fers rare in­sight into the his­tory of beavers and their be­hav­ior, qual­i­ties, and char­ac­ter­is­tics. Even more im­por­tantly, Ea­ger ex­plores the an­i­mals’ com­plex re­la­tion­ship with hu­mans, and the es­sen­tial role they play in de­vel­op­ing ponds and streams that sup­port wildlife.

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