Leave it to beavers
The documentary Leave it to Beavers is a cute and fun way to pass the time while learning about Nature’s Engineers — which is another documentary — AKA beavers. Both of these shows present about 45 minutes of material that is clearly meant to be curious and interesting, something to pass an hour or content to add to the bibliography/pile of content covered by National Geographic. Despite their efforts to make these movies boring, the producers of both of them flirt with what I think is a fascinating and powerful idea.
Nature’s Engineers opens with a story about how beavers’ dams created the only sources of water in ranchland suffering from drought. And despite farmers efforts to remove beavers and their dams in other landscapes, they always seem to pop back up. Leave it Beavers tells the story of a researcher who learns that he can ‘direct’ the attention of dam-building beavers by leaving a stereo that plays the sound of babbling water on loop in a certain place. When he returns the next day, the beavers will have thought the sound was a leak in their lake and will have built a new section of the dam.
Both of the documentaries then go on to showcase how different people are fighting for the protection of beavers, focusing on how social, cute and intelligent the creatures are. The most fascinating thing to me is not how cute baby beavers are, though, but how obvious it is that beavers have a magical superpower to manipulate the hydrological layer of the landscape, yet few people seem to be advocating that we learn how to harness that power directly. Environmentalists have moved from preservation to conservation to restoration… in a time when rural municipalities have little budgets for neither infrastructure projects nor repeated beaver dam busting (and in a time of widespread drought), what if we moved into an era of manipulation? Friendly, symbiotic manipulation, or course — but the pursuit of shepherding other creatures and forces to do what they do best, just in a way that helps humans out. Let’s train beaver experts to learn how to leave audio files on the loop in the landscape, slowly painting pools into the landscape with the beaver as a brush.