Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Commerce and the Oldest Engineers

Yet most agree that her tail is fish
And if her body be fish too,
Then I may say that a fish
Will walk upon the land
                       —The Compleat Angler

The history of commerce in North America is also the history of wetlands.  A quick review of European settlement reveals that the fur trading industry played a major role in the development of the United States and Canada for more than 300 years.  It began in the 1500s as an exchange between Indians and Europeans. Beaver fur, which was used in Europe to make felt hats, became the most valuable of these furs. Traders and trappers explored much of North America in search of fur. They built trading posts in the wilderness, and settlements grew up around many of these posts. Some of these settlements later became major cities such as Detroit, New Orleans, and St. Louis in the United States; and Edmonton, Montreal, Quebec, and Winnipeg in Canada.

Beavers were hunted to the point of extinction in parts of the U.S. such as Massachusetts and later had to be reintroduced.  I remember reading years ago that beaver became so rare that the remaining population stopped building dams altogether and dug their homes in the sides of river banks.  Some beavers still do.  I’ve seen beaver slides beside corn fields in Wisconsin as well as the trail of corn stalks leading to the slide.  A beaver had gnawed down cornstalks and started dragging them into the water.  Beavers have always been adaptable.Like wetlands, individual Americans can’t decide whether to love beavers or hate them.  There  are a host of websites about beavers as pests and lots of advice on how to remove them or live with them (lots of links to other great videos of beavers) or deceive them (and more videos).

Beavers display many of the traits Americans admire.  They are industrious and hard working.  They are monogamous and sustain extended families.  They are tough-minded and determined as demonstrated by their ability to rebuild a dam destroyed by man or floods over and over.  They are incredible builders and engineers.

It would have been too bad if beavers had been hunted to extinction years ago.  Too bad for the beavers and too bad for us.  Recently beavers have been identified as important builders not only of dams, but also of wildlife habitat and biologists in the West are examining the possibility of beavers solving drought problems created by climate change

Perhaps the problem with beavers is that they are too much like people, and we’ll only get along if we learn to work together.  In fact, this is not a new suggestion.  A report from the Colorado Riparian Association in 1998 forwarded ideas about humans and beavers cooperating to build dams  The beavers cooperated.

The question is, will the humans?

And then there is this question about water-based interstate commerce and jurisdiction of waters and the Clean Water Act.  Beavers have been a water-based source of commerce since before there was an interstate to have commerce in—or between.  Historically they were everywhere even high in the mountains of the western U.S.  And if there isn’t a wetland, they’ll create one, and maintain it, and work on it until it’s navigable-in-fact.

Not even migratory birds can do that!

Beaver (Commerce + Navigability) = Jurisdiction?

England: Debut for beavers at wetland base – July 2009

Beavers ‘good for biodiversity’ (Scotland) – July 2009

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