Unlike a children’s book that makes beavers seem like cute little dam builders, this one takes a serious look at the creatures and their critical importance to ecosystems across North America.
Goldfarb, a freelance environmental journalist with a master’s degree in environmental management, takes readers from the days of the fur trade, which drew trappers and then settlers across the continent and saw beavers killed by the millions, to current conservation efforts. As he reports, the disappearance of beavers altered the landscape dramatically, drying up wetlands, killing off species, fostering erosion, and changing the courses of streams. While the focus is on North American beavers, the author also offers a brief look at a sister species in Great Britain and conservation efforts there. To research this book, Goldfarb traveled widely with scientists, activists, naturalists, wildlife managers, engineers, cattle ranchers, and beaver rescuers and re-locaters, and he shares his findings in lucid and entertaining prose. Beavers, he writes in his introduction, “are ecological and hydrological Swiss Army knives, capable, in the right circumstances, of tackling just about any landscape-scale problem you might confront. Trying to mitigate floods or improve water quality? There’s a beaver for that. Hoping to capture more water for agriculture in the face of climate change? Add a beaver. Concerned about sedimentation, salmon runs, wildfire? Take two families of beaver and check back in a year.” The author consistently convinces readers of the truth of this assessment. It’s vital, he writes, that we learn to coexist with these ecosystem engineers because they can help restore our rivers, forestall the loss of biodiversity, and reduce the damages of climate change. An eight-page photographic insert further brings beavers and their world to life.
Filled with hard facts and fascinating people (and animals), this is an authoritative, vigorous call for understanding and action.