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How beavers are helping restore wetlands and create buffers against wildfires

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Beavers are doing their part to mitigate climate change. They help ease the effects of drought and wildfires by damming up streams and forming ponds.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

That's according to the self-proclaimed beaver-dam enthusiast Emily Fairfax. She's also an assistant professor of environmental science and resource management at California State University Channel Islands.

EMILY FAIRFAX: When you do have a wildfire start burning in the landscape, these beaver ponds and the vegetation around them is just too wet to burn. It's like it's been irrigated or kept well-watered, even if you've come off of a multi-year drought.

FADEL: In addition to creating wetlands, beavers are also restoring habitats.

FAIRFAX: When they start their dam-construction activities, they go around, and they chew down some trees - not all the trees. They start to flood water. They dig these canals that radiate out into the floodplains from their little home ponds. They take the most simplified degraded river or stream and make it complex so that there's a lot of different habitat there. If you are a fish or a frog or a bird, chances are you can find your ideal habitat in a beaver pond.

MARTÍNEZ: Wildlife officials in California are looking to restore the beaver population and harness the rodents' natural abilities to improve ecosystems. But as Fairfax points out, busy beavers can't fight climate change alone.

FAIRFAX: We are the ones putting out all of these emissions. Beavers are kind of here on cleanup crew, but they can only do so much work. And if we continue to exacerbate climate change through our own actions, they can't fix that for us.

FADEL: So the next time you see a beaver in the wild, thank them and maybe think about what you can do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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