Appreciated for their lavish texture and warmth, beavers have been used in the fashion industry for hundreds of years as hats, fur coats and in leather goods (amongst other items). Autumn Sartain explains the role beavers play in the environment and whether it is truly possible to buy beaver products and sleep at night.
Beavers play an important role in their environments – so much so that they are considered a “keystone species.” A keystone species essentially binds an ecosystem together. Their impact is so important that if they were taken out, the ecosystem would drastically change. This means that the other species living in that ecosystem depend on the keystone species to maintain their habitat.
Beavers are famous for building dams. Through dam-building, engineered flooding and their feeding activities, beavers change the hydrology and geomorphology of channels, create wetlands, alter nutrient cycles and decomposition, influence the plant species that live alongside their streams, and a lot more. They have the ability to completely change the dynamics and productivity of an ecosystem.
As for whether all this is enough to boycott beaver fur, that’s really a personal choice…
Beaver trade in the past was pretty devastating throughout Europe and North America. By the early 1900s American beavers were overexploited and there were only about 1200 Eurasian beavers left. Now, though, because of protection measures and re-introduction programmes, Beaver populations have recovered enough that both the Eurasian Beaver and the American Beaver are considered as being of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In fact, in Europe their numbers had climbed to 430,000 by 1998; and now they are even considered “abundant” in North America….Beavering Away, you could say!
However, Eurasian beavers are still struggling to recover in Asia, where populations are small – in Mongolia in 2004, the population was estimated at around 130-150 individuals, and in China only one major population is known and estimates for the entire country peak at 700.
It makes sense then not to source beaver fur from Asia, as these populations are suffering. But what about beaver fur from Europe and North America? Hunting rules and conservation measures vary across regions, so the best way to approach this is to find out a few things before buy, for example, where does the fur come from? Is it harvested ethically and sustainably?
Asking these questions will help ensure that beavers don’t experience the population crashes of the past and will ensure that the environments dependent on them can stay intact.
Answer by Autumn Sartain
For further reading: Ecosystem Alteration of Boreal Forest Streams by Beaver