The beaver world gathers in tiny Oregon town

“Seventy-five percent of the artificial wetland restoration projects done in America over the past thirty years have failed but when beavers do it, they do it perfectly,” says Stanley Petrowski. He lives in Canyonville, Oregon, a small town in the Klamath Mountains of southern Oregon with a population of 1,660.

Stanley and a neighbour, former logger Leonard Houston, have helped turn the town into the global locus of efforts to restore beavers to their traditional ranges in the wild. They founded the State of the Beaver conference in 2010 after attending a government agency working group where participants spent their time arguing. It’s now in its 13th year.

Growing up on a small farm bordering the South Umpqua river, Leonard learned a deep respect for the beaver. But after spending most of his life working in forestry-related industries, he was shocked to find that the beaver had disappeared and no one was working to bring them back even as millions were being spent to restore streams and fish runs. He and his wife began making an inventory of the beaver populations of the Umpqua Basi and formed the Beaver Advocacy Committee under the umbrella of the South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership. 

ixie Creek in Elko County , Nevada, on July 2, 2021. Beaver dams and wetland vegetation provide an abundance of water as well as high quality habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife during a third year of severe drought. (Carol Evans)

“We were really disappointed by all the wrangling and decided to host our own get-together to try to get past that,” said Petrowski. 

So with support from the South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership (SURCP) and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, who supplied the use of Seven Feathers Casino and Resort, they brought together about 150 scientists and restoration advocates from all over North America and Europe for a three-day conference.

At that first conference, people from agencies and scientific disciplines who had never met discovered their common interest in beaver ecology. It helped contribute greatly to what some call the ‘beaver enlightenment’.

Interest in beavers has been steadily increasing over the past thirteen years due to the low-cost and extensive benefits to the environment and wildlife that they bring when planted in streams. Water storage, in these times of increasingly frequent drought, is a boon to farmers, ranchers as well as rural towns and cities. Beavers help restore anadromous fish runs and provide homes for waterfowl and aquatic creatures such as frogs and salamanders as well as drinking water for other wild creatures.

This year’s conference, the 13th, will bring together up to 300 beaver restoration advocates and rewilding activists from all over North America and Europe Nov. 13-15, 2023. The theme is “The Path Forward”, focusing on the future of beavers across the northern hemisphere and the best management strategies for both humans and beaver.

“At no time in history has the plight of the beaver been so illuminated, authors, filmmakers, and the media have shone the international spotlight upon an unlikely hero, the humble hardworking champion of our aquatic ecosystems. Across the Northern Hemisphere beaver ecology is one of the fastest-growing fields in restoration ecology, this event highlights the actions of all whom work in this arena.”

Canyonville, Oregon. Jsayre64/Wikimedia Commons

The conference, which is organized by SURCP and sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),  the Maine Community Foundation, and seven other organizations dedicated to beaver restoration, is an economic boon to both the tribe and the small town.

Hundreds of scientists, activists, and lecturers spend time and money in the community. Lodging at the casino and local motels by itself brings in tens of thousands of dollars.

As well as presentations by ecologists, wildlife and fisheries biologists, and activists this year’s conference will feature a panel of representatives from eight East Coast indigenous tribes who will speak of the tradition role of beavers in their culture  and about their current restoration efforts.

Leila Phillip, a professor of Environmental Studies at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and author of Beaver Land, How One Weird Rodent Made America, will be the keynote speaker.

European visitors are among the participants because restoration efforts for the Eurasian Beaver, a close cousin to the North American Beaver, is a growing field in Britain, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Lithuania and Poland with some of their efforts underway at scales that are often ahead of those in the US. 


The Beaver State of Mind. Daily Yonder, Oct. 24,2023

Rehydrating Nevada’s riparian areas, one beaver at a time Nevada Independent, Oct. 22, 2023

Cover image: from Worth A Dam