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Eugene Weekly : Natural Resistance : 3.11.10




Rodents of Utah

Backward lawmakers bow to the beaver

By MARY O’BRIEN

There are some good reasons Oregonians can be glad they’re not Utahns in 2010, but beaver isn’t one of them.

First, a few reasons to celebrate not being a Utah citizen in 2010:

• In late February, by large margins, the Utah Legislature passed a joint resolution urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “to cease its carbon dioxide reduction policies, programs and regulations until climate data and global warming science are substantiated.” The bill makes bizarre claims. 

• In the same month, the Utah House of Representatives passed by 57-13 a bill authorizing Utah to seize federal lands by eminent domain. The short-term aim is to open two roads through national forests to develop state school lands for high-end housing developments; and to authorize oil and gas extraction on federal lands next to Arches National Park. Never mind that the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel told the Legislature the state has no standing to exercise eminent domain.

• The Utah House (59-12) and Senate (24-4) passed a bill criminalizing women for “intentionally, knowingly, [or] recklessly” causing a miscarriage. The bill doesn’t outlaw legal abortions but instead criminalizes reckless conduct that results in a miscarriage. For instance, a pregnant woman could be charged with homicide if she fails to wear a seatbelt and is in a car accident and miscarries. 

• The Legislature opened February passing a bill requiring the state’s wildlife agency to prevent the existence of any wolf packs in the small portion of Utah where wolves are no longer listed as an endangered species, and to require the wildlife agency to request federal agencies to remove wolves from any areas in the state where they are still listed as an endangered species.

And then there’s Utah’s school class size. It’s larger than any other state in the nation. But uh-oh. Oregon doesn’t beat Utah by much on that one, ranking 49th out of 50 rather than 50th.

But beaver. Now there’s where Utah beats out Oregon. In just five months in 2009, a multi-stakeholder Beaver Advisory Committee wrote Utah’s first-ever beaver management plan, and by January 2010, the state wildlife agency’s Regional Advisory Commissions and Wildlife Board had passed the plan unanimously. The management plan identifies more than 100 creeks for potential reintroduction of beaver; provides for training and licensing of livetrappers; plans education about economically effective, time-proven construction that prevents clogging of culverts or unwanted flooding of property or roads by dam-building beaver; plans to assess all historical beaver habitat in the state for the first time since the 1970s; and provides for three to six years of trapping closure in particular creeks while beaver recover their presence. All this while allowing for continued recreational trapping as well as “lethal control” of beaver in conflict situations with landowners who don’t want livetrapping utilized.

Meanwhile, the Beaver Working Group (BWG) in Oregon has been toiling more than a year to develop a plan to finally move beaver out of its Oregon classification as a “predatory animal” (albeit vegetarian) that cannot be livetrapped and moved to habitats that would benefit from its prodigious engineering skills. The BWG has spent years meeting; compiling a 181-page bibliography of beaver research and review articles; planning for genetic and ecological studies; and generally not making the basic decisions that would allow beaver to work in Oregon to restore incised streams, create wetlands, elevate water tables, provide speed bumps during high water flows, extend late season flows, assist salmon recovery and obviate the need for spending hundreds of thousands, even millions of public dollars hiring helicopters to place woody debris in water. 

Look. Oregon is the Beaver State. We can do better than this. We’re the only state in the nation that has pictures on both sides of the state flag. One side is complex, with a shield, an eagle, the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, mountains, forests, a plow, wheat and pickax, and a British and U.S. ship. The other side is simple: a beaver.

We also need to work on school class size. It’s no good being that much like Utah in that statistic.

See Mary O’Brien’s earlier story on beavers at http://wkly.ws/em and read the Utah beaver management plan at http://wkly.ws/en