beaver meadow

The beaver meadow is considered by many to be the most valuable of all meadow types. Where waterways—creeks, streams, or rivers—are blocked or slowed by beaver structures, a creeping wetland is created. In addition to the myriad species that thrive in such a locale, the wetlands act as enormous biological filters. Beaver-created wetlands not only cleanse the water, but in detaining it permit the percolation of that water to the layer that holds groundwater. When a given dam is abandoned—the beaver having eaten their way through the softwood trees (aspen, cottonwood, willow) and moved on—the land will quickly revert to forest, but with a revitalized soil base. Such is the case with western New York’s Beaver Meadow Creek Park, as well as Beaver Meadow Falls near Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. The value of a beaver-created meadow was recognized by explorer Antonio Armijo in 1829. When he came upon a rich mosaic of springs, mesquite, and grass meadows as well as an abundant population of beaver in what is now southern Nevada, he named the place “Las Vegas,” meaning “the meadows”— beaver meadows in this case. At that time millions of beaver populated the continental United States. In fact, they are second only to humans in terms of the role they’ve played in shaping the American landscape.

Antonya Nelson