Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Believe!: review of EAGER

Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter

Ben Goldfarb
Foreword by Dan Flores

Hardcover, $25.95

“One river, underground, irreplaceable, with habitat and wetlands for all.”
The above is the Beaver Pledge, per a beaver enthusiast in California who welcomed the author of this beaver bible to her “home-cum-museum.” Goldfarb meets with all sorts of Beaver Believers (that’s an actual thing) as he studies the history of the Castor Canadensis in the US and shares with his readers the profound importance of these busy rodents in the creation and preservation of wetlands, health of fish (trout, salmon) populations, and all around environmental benefits of, basically, leaving them alone to do what they do. 
But this country is not known for leaving anything alone, especially anything environmental. Trappers decimated beavers in the 18thand 19thcenturies. Farmers and fishermen wrongly believed the flooding caused by beaver dams damaged their livelihood (quite the opposite). Humans like free-flowing, straight, deep waterways on which to travel, trade, and scrounge for valuables, whereas beavers absolutely abhor flowing water. By damming up anything that moved, they created ecologically vibrant and hardy ponds and pools, which then fed aquafers, vital in times of drought. A good example of how important beavers are to fight drought is evident in California, and Goldfarb devotes an entire chapter to the Golden State. Fortunately, California has discovered that to fight climate change, the best way may not be to plant more trees, but “to plant more beavers.” But it is amazing to know that this overall environmental progressive state was steadfastly anti-beaver in its policies. Slowly, the powers that be are coming around to recognize the beaver bounty.
EAGER is a fun, fast read, even with the abundant science thrown in there. Goldfarb is passionate and as busy as his subject. And he recognizes the inherently quirky nature of his obsession. Beaver Believers constitute a group of hardworking biologists and laypeople who have made it their mission to bring beavers back to their rightful places in this country. Snickers and sidelong glances be damned: these folks know that without beavers, we lose. With them, we have at least a fighting chance to alleviate some of the inevitable devastation climate change is bringing.
Ben Goldfarb is asked why he is writing about beavers. Are they endangered? Well, no. Despite human’s best efforts there are still millions of these tough little rodents in North America and Europe. Goldfarb notes that beavers returned to the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; they were among the first mammals to return to the volcanic ruin of Mount St. Helens; beavers are enjoying the result of warming in Alaska, nibbling on trees in the once barren tundra. “You can have the rats and cockroaches,” Goldfarb declares. “When the nukes fall, I’m betting on beavers.”
EAGER is a heartening read in these dreadful times that feel more and more like the end times. The fact that there are many people out there who are fighting to save what too many are conniving to destroy makes me feel at once hopeful and guilty. Most of us do too little, myself included. But being aware and spreading that awareness will help save some of this planet for the next generation. I don’t know if I’d ever dress up in a beaver suit for a Beaver Festival, but I’ll definitely hype this wonderful book. 
Go Beavers!


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