What the world has been doing to prevent beavers’ extinction may actually be accelerating their demise, according to a study from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
Apparently, beaver ponds cause more methane to be released into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming and leaving scientists with an interesting question: how do we stop beaver methane?
The University of Saskatchewan’s Colin Whitfield says that rising beaver populations over the past 100 years means more beaver dams to create shallow ponds. These ponds, however, causes methane to be released from shallow standing waters. Whitfield says that there is 200 times more methane from beaver ponds today than there was around 1900.
“Continued range expansion, coupled with changes in population and pond densities, may dramatically increase the amount of water impounded by the beaver,” Whitfield said in a statement. “This, in combination with anticipated increases in surface water temperatures, and likely effects on rates of methanogenesis, suggests that the contribution of beaver activity to global methane emissions may continue to grow.”
Beavers were nearly hunted to extinction during the nineteenth century due to the booming fur trade in North America. As governments began regulating trapping, beaver populations recovered and prospered, but the recovery of beavers has “created an anthropogenic greenhouse gas source in these landscapes,” according to a press release for Whitfield’s study.
Beavers dam up creeks, streams and parts of rivers to create ponds and wetlands. These dams are usually no more than 5 feet, meaning carbon dioxide builds up in the shallow pools and release methane.
Whitfield says “it has long been known that release of methane from beaver ponds to the atmosphere is more intense than for other types of wetlands.” He says there are more than 10 million beavers and they have dammed up about 16,000 square miles of ponds.
Whitfield says that beaver activities release 1.8 billion tons of methane each year — 15 percent more than what animals such as deer or antelope emit.
Does this mean that the government will have to start regulating beaver dams? Or maybe culling certain amounts of beavers every year? Only time will tell.
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