The bad news?
The Forest Service screwed up.
The good news?
Wasn’t our Forest Service.
Nope. Wasn’t ours. Was the Argentinian Forest Service.
So why are we worried about it?
We aren’t, but somewhere in what happened down there I think there’s a lesson of some kind. So here goes ...
With one major exception, in my wanderings around the country I have seen just about every mammal in the lower 48 which is larger than a bread box and which anybody with a lick of sense would like to see — outside of a cage.
Which means if you want to go to Yellowstone and view the grizzlies you don’t have to worry about running into me. And it also means there are a couple of large wolf species I will pass on, having seen two and being quite convinced they are not friendly.
So what’s the “major exception?”
Mind you, by “seen” I mean seen them living right out there in the woods, in their native habitat, not in a zoo. Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever seeing a beaver in a zoo. Do they keep them in zoos? Something tells me the answer is no, so it’s probably accurate to say the only place I have ever seen a beaver was on television.
No, not that Beaver. I’m being serious here.
So why do I mention never having seen a beaver? Two reasons.
First of all, when European settlers first arrived here in North America, beavers were so widely established that in some of the colonies beaver dams were literally everywhere.
Don’t hold me to this, but if I remember correctly there were 10 times as many beavers in North America back then as there are now, something like 60 million of them.
That’s a lot of beavers!
But by the time I was born, there wasn’t a beaver dam to be seen anywhere in Connecticut and even though I wandered a lot of territory in New England, even hitchhiking up to some parts of Maine, I never had the pleasure of seeing the little guys busily trying to chew down a forest. They were gone, trapped out during an era when their fur was highly valued and men trekked deeper and deeper into the wilds to get them. Fortunes were made in the beaver trade, some of the largest fortunes in the nation, the John Jacob Astor fortune, just for one.
However, by the time I came along, the beaver fur trade was mentioned only in history books, and I have never personally seen anything made of beaver fur.
You knew there was a but coming, didn’t you, Johnny?
Here comes the second reason I mentioned this.
Remember now, it wasn’t our Forest Service. It was somebody else’s forest service that got itself into in deep doo-doo.
Well, it seems that down in Argentina in 1946, a mentally gifted public official had a “wonderful idea.” Or if my rough and ready Spanish still works, I suppose he had an “idea maravillosa.”
As far as I have been able to gather, the “idea” went something like this:
“We will create a thriving fur trade here in Argentina by importing 50 beavers from Canada and placing them in the barren lands of Tierra del Fuego!”
Tierra del Fuego, in case you have forgotten, is the very tip of South America, as cold, empty, and miserable place as the world provides, a mix of tundra and taiga, tundra being frozen desert and taiga being frosted forest.
And so here came 50 Canadian beavers.
“So what?” you may ask.
You know what happens when an animal or fish is brought in, but its natural predators are left at home? If you don’t know, go look out a window. But be careful you don’t frighten an elk.
Anyway, it now seems that they have 200,000 beavers down there, all hell-bent on cutting down trees, damning up streams, and drowning whatever forest is left after they get done.
But you know what they don’t have down there in Argentina?
A thriving fur trade.
And don’t tell me you’re surprised because I know you’re not.
It was 1946 when they imported those 50 beavers, not 1846, and who wore beaver anything in 1946? For one thing, nobody had worn a beaver fur top hat since the Lincoln-Douglas debate.
And on top of that, the handwriting was on the wall for the entire fur industry. Not only were synthetic, fur-like materials being developed everywhere in 1946, but people were beginning to doubt the wisdom of killing animals just for their pelts.
So what are they doing about the beavers down Argentina way?
Well, they first tried putting a bounty on them, but that didn’t fly. Turns out that Argentina just doesn’t have much in the way of a hunting and trapping population.
Then they tried to get people to eat them. How did that go? Here’s a description of beaver meat. “It’s dark-colored, tough, and it takes a long time to cook,” says Ezequiel Rodriguez, owner of a restaurant that tried serving beaver dishes.
Please notice that “tried” serving.
Here’s an edited-for-space epic from the current trap-them-out war that has been declared. “In Tierra del Fuego National Park in southern Argentina, park ranger Pablo Kunzle stands on a dam built by beavers on a fast-moving stream appropriately called Beaver Creek. He breaks through ice to fish out a steel trap he laid for the beavers.”
“I put the trap here,” Kunzle says atop the dam. “I think I might have gotten something.”
“Almost!” Kunzle says as he examines an empty trap.
Anybody want some free beavers?