It’s Canada’s worst fire season. How can beavers help fight wildfires?

Beaver dam in Frontenac Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. Photo Credit: Everett Atlas / Getty Images

Canadian officials have recently noted that 2023 is the country’s worst wildlife season on record, with millions of hectares burned across the country. With so much devastation occurring to the environment, wildlife, and humans as a result of climate change and extreme weather events, there is one busy animal who can help fight wildfires: the beaver.

Beavers are ecosystem engineers and considered a keystone species: they provide critical habitats for plants and a number of aquatic, semi-aquatic, and terrestrial animals to live and thrive in, including endangered species. This superpower is especially valuable during wildfires, as beaver dams can create temporary habitats for wild animals who are unable to escape from the threat of rapidly advancing fires.

Research was conducted in several western US states to examine what role beavers play during wildfires. In 2020, Emily Fairfax and Andrew Whittle published their findings in the journal Ecological Adaptions. Their study looked at wildfires in five different states, relying on satellite images to examine vegetation around beaver dams before, during, and after wildfires. They found that areas around beaver dams stayed green and had more vegetation than areas without dams, demonstrating the resilience of beaver-created wetlands to forest fires.

Photographs of vegetation response to wildfire around beaver ponds. (Fairfax and Whittle, 2020)

This research showed that beavers can provide fire-resistant habitats through their damming activities. Not only are these crucial habitats preserved during drought and fires, but they also serve as temporary sanctuaries for other wild animals who are fleeing the spread of wildfire. The authors write, “When it comes to water, beavers slow it, spread it, and store it.”

View the video below from study author, Emily Fairfax.

The need for beaver protection

Beavers provide remarkable contributions to the environment, creating wetlands that foster rich ecosystems and enhance biodiversity. Canada is facing biodiversity and climate crises, and beavers can be instrumental in mitigating against the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. These amazing animals are increasingly being recognized for their environmental benefits. Just last month, the state of California announced increased protections for beavers, promoting non-lethal alternatives to trapping and recognizing the role they have in resisting wildfires. You can read more about the state’s beaver programs by clicking here.

"Over the past decade and throughout the western states a paradigm shift has occurred, with a transition from beavers being viewed primarily as a potential nuisance species to the growing recognition of the vast ecological benefits of beaver activity on the landscape. As a result, there is a rapidly expanding desire among landowners, land managers, restoration practitioners, and other stakeholders in California to utilize beavers for habitat and water management, ecosystem restoration, and increased resiliency to climate change and wildfire."

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Sadly, many beavers are trapped and killed across Canada because they’re deemed “nuisances”. Beavers are also still trapped for commercial and recreational purposes in all provinces, leading to countless beavers being removed from the Canadian landscape in a time when we need them most. From drought to wildfires to a biodiversity crisis, beavers are the superheroes Canada needs to respond to the call.

Is it time that beavers, an official symbol of Canada, be officially protected for the ecosystem benefits they provide? We think so. What do you think?

Contact your local government to learn if beavers are being trapped in your community. Download and share our Beaver Coexistence Booklet to learn more about non-lethal, humane alternatives to trapping beavers.

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