Beavers Save Bay from Brunt of Spill – But Pay the Price

One of six beavers caught in an oil spill at a Utah state park rests at a wildlife center. Photo by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah.
Beavers have proved over and over again how valuable they and their impressive dams are. The wetlands created by the dams increase and support biological diversity. The dams filter silt and pollution from water. Recently in northern Utah, beaver dams performed a truly amazing service: they stopped the worst of an oil spill from spreading to a freshwater reservoir.

Unfortunately, the dams couldn’t protect the beavers. The diesel flowing from a break in a pipeline covered beavers, including a mother and her two kits. Volunteers and staffers at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah are working to save six of the animals caught in the spill discovered March 18 in wetlands at Willard Bay State Park. All the beavers are improving, although two yearlings exposed to the oil for days are still in rough shape.

“Wildlife officials… had to dismantle the large lodge ‘stick by stick’ to gain access to the chamber where the mother and her two kits were hiding. The environment of the chamber was heavy with fuel vapors and all three beavers were covered in the toxic liquid,’’ according to staff at the wildlife center. The animals inhaled and ingested diesel, said DaLyn Erickson-Marthaler, the center’s executive director and wildlife specialist. Some of the beavers lost a lot of their fur and have abcesses.

At least 21,000 gallons of diesel have spilled from the Chevron pipeline that runs from Salt Lake City refineries to Spokane, Wash. Media reports indicate this is Chevron’s third oil pipeline spill in Utah in fewer than three years. Utah isn’t the only place where wildlife is suffering or facing threats because of oil and gas spills and leaks.

In Arkansas

Meanwhile, nearly 1,500 miles to the east, another oil spill is taking its toll on wildlife and their two-legged neighbors. The National Wildlife Federation’s Miles Grant and Geralyn Hoey have provided frontline reports about the tar sands oil spill from  Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark.  As of April 8, 139 creatures had been recovered.

Speak up for wildlife at risk from tar sands — Tell the White House to say NO! to Keystone XL.

In Colorado

Staffers at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah tends to one of the beavers caught in an oil spill. Photo by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah.
In western Colorado, the search continues for the source of an underground plume of about 6,000 gallons of natural gas liquids and 180,000 gallons of contaminated water. Williams, which owns the nearby gas-processing plant, has blamed a faulty gauge on a pipeline valve, but state regulators say the investigation is ongoing.

The contamination is near Parachute Creek, which supplies irrigation water and eventually runs into the Colorado River – a major source of water for communities, fish and wildlife. So far, state and federal environmental experts say the contamination hasn’t been found in the creek. Oil spills in 2006 and 2011 in Spring Creek, a tributary of the North Platte River in Colorado’s North Park area, have poisoned the creek bed, according to state and federal records. Colorado-based Lone Pine Gas Inc. has a permit allowing it to discharge hundreds of thousands of gallons of treated liquid waste into the creek. North Park is highly prized by hunters and anglers for its gold-medal fisheries and abundant wildlife, including mule deer, pronghorns, moose and greater sage-grouse. It’s home to the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge.

Isn’t this supposed to be refuge?

One of the six beavers soaked in an oil spill rests against the side of a bathtub while the water runs. Photo by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah.
Back in Utah, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing plans to drill more wells in Ouray National Wildlife Refuge south of Vernal. The federal government doesn’t own the minerals under the refuge and those who do want to go after the oil and gas. Roughly 200 species of birds use the refuge. It provides habitat for elk, deer, river otters and four endangered fish species.

When drilling and the location of pipelines are considered, when oil and gas regulations are written and updated, wildlife must be factored in. It’s clear that what’s good for wildlife and the environment is also good for people. Just think of those beaver dams.

“The irony of it all is the beavers’ dam absolutely contained the oil spill and saved the bay,”  Erickson-Marthaler. “But they’ve certainly paid a heavy price.”

Speak up for wildlife TODAY by urging President Obama to stop the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all. And watch our new video on the impacts tar sands oil poses to wildlife from Canada to the Gulf coast of Texas and beyond.