Friday, December 2, 2011

In the Service of the Beaver

Valles Caldera: The Return of the Beaver / oil and mixed media on canvas / 16 x 12 inches

I was fortunate to be able to join WildEarth Guardians on a recent Beaver Restoration Project in  Valles Caldera. 
Cattle have recently been removed from riparian areas in the Valles Caldera Preserve,  and wildlife biologists have been anticipating the return of native beavers, who were starved out of the area decades ago by cattle competing with them for food.  Their preferred food is the inner bark of willow and poplar saplings.
Two wildlife biologists had been monitoring the entry and exit points of the San Antonio River in the Preserve for signs of beaver activity, but they spotted nothing--until recently.  To their surprise, one of them stumbled upon a small beaver dam deep in the heart of the preserve.  A trail cam confirmed the presence of an occupant.  The little guy (or gal) trudged for miles to lay claim to a new home on the river. 
By the time dam construction began, winter was approaching, and food supplies were scarce.  WildEarth Guardians came to the rescue.   Local Guardians loaded a large flatbed with willow shoots, some generously donated by Santa Clara Pueblo, and we set out for the site in the midst of one of the season's first snowstorms.  We also brought more than forty willow saplings to plant on the river banks, so the beaver will have a food supply upon emergence in the spring.  In the photos below you will see two handsome foresters operating an auger for the tree planting.   (We're sporting day-glo vests because it is elk hunting season).  WildEarth Guardians plant thousands of trees every year, hiring local labor to supplement their volunteer workforce. 
We made our  way to the site and spent the day off-loading the willow bundles, dragging them over a ridge and down the other side to the river, and placing them on the banks, cut side in the water, which served as the beaver's big refrigerator.  We wished we could have seen the little guy's face when he emerged after we left.

A second beaver painting is coming soon.

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