Animals’ importance focus of tonight’s talk
“Beavers in the Landscape: An Evening with Dr. Emily Fairfax and Cooper Lienhart” takes place from 6:30 to 8:30 tonight at the Santa Barbara Community Arts Center, 631 Garden St.
The Santa Barbara Permaculture Network is hosting the free program, which is co-sponsored by the San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ojai Beaver Brigades.
The two speakers will share their work and passion for beavers, a keystone species that until recently has been a vastly underrated ecosystem restoration hero.
“Beaver dams are gaining popularity as a low-tech, low-cost strategy to build climate resiliency at the landscape scale,” said Dr. Fairfax. “Beavers are native to North America in populations in the millions before the European fur trade decimated their numbers almost to extinction.
“They are responsible for a landscape most early settlers and farmers took for granted — deep soils built up over centuries with the ponds and wetlands they created. These wetlands function as natural sponges, trapping silt and making them excellent carbon sinks that help with climate change.”
With extended droughts and catastrophic fires plaguing California and the West, in recent years, Dr. Fairfax began focusing her research on the impact of beavers on wildfires.
“Where beavers and their dams and pond complexes are allowed to flourish, water tables naturally rise and keep the surrounding vegetation and soils hydrated,” she said.
Dr. Fairfax’s observations on the positive aspects beavers have in controlling wildfires with the wetlands they create, prompted her to coin the phrase “Smokey the Beaver.”
She uses a combination of remote sensing and field work to research how beaver activity can create drought- and fire-resistant patches in the landscape under a changing climate.
An assistant professor of environmental science and resource management at Cal State Channel Islands, Dr. Fairfax holds an adjunct assistant professor position in the Department of Watershed Sciences at Utah State University.
She double-majored in chemistry and physics as an undergraduate at Carleton College, later earning a doctorate in geological sciences from the University of Colorado-Boulder.
As a part of the evening, Mr. Lienhart, a recent environmental engineering graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, will share how, as a student, he became interested in beavers.
Like many young people, Mr. Lienhart became increasingly concerned about climate change, but when learning about wetlands and their ability to act as carbon sinks effectively sequestering atmospheric carbon and the role of beaver in creating these wetlands, he found a new career path.
After graduating from Cal Poly, Mr. Lienhart enrolled in the Beaver Institute, learning beaver coexistence techniques, and with three organizations in Northern California, has trained in building Beaver Analog Dams, structures that encourage beavers to start building dams in advantageous locations.
Mr. Lienhart, who has worked with the Tulalip tribe in Washington state learning beaver relocation techniques, is a co-founder and active member of the San Luis Obispo Beaver Brigade, which is currently planning for a Beaver Festival scheduled for April 1.
“Of course, beavers and human settlements are often at odds,” said Mr. Lienhart. “But in communities like Martinez, where a popular Beaver Festival takes place every year, it has been demonstrated how these conflicts can be managed with clever strategies, (which is) good for the beaver and the community. And with these kinds of beaver management strategies come new jobs, especially good for the next generation — many who yearn for positive livelihoods.”