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NATURE: Leave It To Beavers

Airs Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 at 8 p.m. & Sunday, Nov. 16 at 3 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Beaver among the lily pads, Ontario, Canada.

The beaver, more than any other animal, is responsible for creating fertile landscapes across North America, but it hasn’t gotten much recognition for that accomplishment until now. A growing number of scientists, conservationists and grass-roots environmentalists have come to regard beavers as overlooked tools in reversing the effects of global warming and world-wide water shortages. These industrious rodents are adept at controlling water and have been doing so for thousands of years.

Everything You Need to Know About Beavers

The beaver might just be nature’s greatest engineer. Excavating, logging and building landscapes, beavers are incredible environmental change agents. “Busy as a beaver” is surely an apt expression as these semi-aquatic, mostly nocturnal animals display astounding industriousness when damming bodies of water and building lodges for themselves and their families. Read the beaver fact sheet

The Benefits of Beavers

The beaver, more than any other animal, is responsible for creating fertile landscapes across North America. When beavers and their families work together to build their dams of stone, logs and mud, they are doing more than just protecting themselves from predators.

Beavers 101

View the infographic

"Leave It To Beavers" tells the story of beavers in North America – their history, their near extinction, and their current comeback as modern day eco-heroes. The program premieres Wednesday, May 14, 2014 on PBS. After the broadcast, the episode will be available for online streaming at pbs.org/nature.

Millions of beavers once dominated the landscapes of Europe, Asia and North America. But when it was discovered that their fur made fantastic felt hats they were trapped to near extinction for the sake of fashion. It wasn’t until hats fell out of style that the population could slowly begin to recover and re-establish itself.

Yet as beavers reclaimed their ancestral ponds, they found themselves at odds with the humans who had moved in and developed the land in their absence. They gained a reputation as pests, the source of flooded properties and ruined roads, and were trapped and hunted all over again in an attempt to stop the damage. But it was a war the beavers continued to win, until a “beaver whisperer” in Canada came up with a plan to manipulate where the beavers built. It’s a win-win solution he plans to share with others who fight a losing war with beavers.

Beavers are devoted to their work as dam builders and they are born equipped and ready for the job. Their continuously growing, self-sharpening incisors strengthened with iron are the perfect tools of the trade. Not only do they help beavers fell the hundreds of trees they need to dam a river, they also come in handy for meals because beavers are vegetarians that gnaw through bark to eat the sugary layer underneath.

Every beaver family works together to build their dams of stone, logs and mud. They erect sturdy lodges with secret entrances and exits and excavate deep channels in ponds that help retain water in arid environments. And as they work, broad meadows, rich with silt, and new ponds are created. By the 1990s, scientists began to notice and investigate the effects beavers were having on the landscape and to document the results. A dramatic example is what happened to Nevada’s Suzie Creek, transformed by beavers from a desert to a veritable garden supporting wildlife such as sandhill cranes and mule deer.

"Leave It To Beavers" introduces viewers to an animal rehab expert who teaches a rescued orphan beaver the skills he’ll need to survive in the wild, and to hairdresser Sherri Tippie, the top live trapper of the species in North America, who rescues unwanted beavers in the Denver suburbs and then places them with farmers and beaver enthusiasts who eagerly provide new homes for them. Whether displaced from their pond, now part of a new housing development, or singled out for gnawing on trees at a golf course, Tippie has relocated over 1,000 beavers to date and her chief priority remains to keep families together.

According to Tippie, “We’re asking so much of these animals and we’re displacing them. They’ve moved into a place where they should be and we don’t want them there. So if we’re going to mess around with them then we need to treat them as well as possible and then put them at a place where they can live out their lives.”

NATURE is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. For NATURE, Fred Kaufman is executive producer. "Leave It To Beavers" is a production of Dam Builders Productions Inc. in association with THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET.

NATURE is on Facebook, Tumblr and you can follow @PBSNature on Twitter. Past episodes of NATURE are available for online viewing.

Leave It to Beavers - Preview

A growing number of scientists, conservationists and grass-roots environmentalists now regard beavers as overlooked tools when it comes to reversing the disastrous effects of global warming and worldwide water shortages. Using their skills as natural builders and brilliant hydro-engineers, beavers can transform and revive landscapes.

How Beavers Build Dams

Beavers are devoted to their work as dam builders and they are born equipped and ready for the job. Leave it to Beavers tells the story of beavers in North America – their history, their near extinction, and their current comeback as modern day eco-heroes.

Beaver Rescue in Denver

Hairdresser Sherri Tippie, the top live trapper of the species in North America, rescues unwanted beavers in the Denver suburbs and then places them with farmers and beaver enthusiasts who eagerly provide new homes for them.