(HOST) Commentator Ruth Page has been thinking about the interface between animal habitats and clean water.
(PAGE) Beavers are good environmentalists. As they strip the willow trees and gnaw branches into appropriate chunks for their homes, they open up more space for sun, and create deep, clean pools of fresh water. The larger willows survive, their branches shading the stream, keeping the water cool.
Years ago when we drove to Stowe with our small children we passed a lovely beaver pond in a stream along the road. We stopped to show the kids and explain, and my small niece kept one lovely stick gnawed by powerful teeth into a perfect point; she called it her ‘beavo stick." We were all impressed by the amazing breadth and height of the beavers’ lodge.
National Wildlife magazine points out that beaver ponds are good for wildlife, from plants to birds. A study shows that songbird populations are more abundant and diverse when beavers build more dams in our waterways. A new beaver lodge was found on an intake canal on Detroit’s east riverfront, the first in 75 years, by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The Service noted that the cleanup has brought back eagles, sturgeon and other species, adding, "if it’s cleaner for them, it’s cleaner for us, too."
Now consider a totally different kind of water-engineer: the cattle of the Southwest. These creatures, except on the ranches run by very conscientious and knowledgeable ranchers, wade in the stream-waters, break down the streambanks and foul the water so that neither fish nor fowl is happy. Cattle ambling through a stream also make it wider and shallower as they break down the vegetated edges. Loss of vegetation, especially willow trees, warms the water.
Fishermen’s groups and members of Ducks Unlimited, along with other conservationists in the states affected, are seeking government control of the problem. Fast action is needed. Western trout and other fish are disappearing at a rapid rate from formerly cold, clear streams. Much of the loss is due to the depredations of ranch-cattle. Even parts of the Rio Grande have b een affected, causing suffering to Mexican farmers and their families.
Nature does its best, but when we interfere by putting animals in the wrong habitats, we cause trouble.