(Photo | By Kent Miller, National Park Service)
New Exhibit Dam It! Beavers and Us, Exploring Past and Present of Iconic Mammal, Now Open
With Deschutes County moving into the High Risk category for COVID-19 precautions, the High Desert Museum will welcome visitors into its indoor exhibits again starting on Friday, February 12.
Timed tickets are highly encouraged, as capacity is limited. Tickets may be reserved at highdesertmuseum.org/tickets.
The Museum’s outdoor exhibitions reopened after a statewide freeze on activities in early December. The reopening of the interior means the public will get its first chance to view the new, original Museum exhibition Dam It! Beavers and Us, which had been slated to open January 30.
In the Pleistocene era, ancient beavers up to eight feet long and 220 pounds roamed what is now the High Desert and beyond. One incisor tooth excavated from Oregon’s South Yamhill River in 2017 measured three inches long. This massive creature, Castoroides ohioensis, was the giant beaver, ancestor of the modern North American beaver, Castor canadensis.
The giant beaver went extinct 10,000 years ago, and the modern beaver is now the largest rodent on the continent. Despite being smaller and once driven to the edge of extinction, it today has a mammoth-size impact on the American West.
A replica of the giant beaver, as well as the skull of a squirrel-sized Pleistocene relative, begins the story. The exhibition explores this important member of the order Rodentia and explore the interrelationship of people, beavers and the landscape.
An estimated 60 million to 400 million beavers once lived in North America, fulfilling a vital ecological role by creating valuable wetlands and ponds. The dams built by these “ecosystem engineers” slow streamflow, raise the water table and reduce downstream flooding and erosion. Plants and sediment in a beaver pond improve water quality. Beavers help birds, fish and other wildlife and native plants to thrive. Their habitats serve as emerald refuges during wildfire and also store carbon. Aside from humans, no other animal exerts such a far-reaching impact on the landscape.
Humans and beavers have lived side by side for thousands of years. This exhibition examines our coexistence with this herbivorous rodent throughout history. Humans dramatically altered beaver populations and habitats in the last two centuries. The European demand for beaver pelts for clothing, most notably hats, almost drove the mammal to extinction by the mid-19th century.
Today in the West, people from many walks of life are reintroducing the beaver and mimicking its dam-building behavior in order to restore healthy High Desert ecosystems. While the beaver is found across the country, it supports many species that are endemic to the High Desert and can play a particularly important ecological role in arid and semi-arid areas.
“This exhibit takes a close look at a species that has a huge impact on the landscape,” said Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw, Ph.D. “Through cultural history, science and art, visitors will find new ways to appreciate this oft-maligned rodent.”
Central Oregon residents and visitors will find the presence of the exhibit throughout the community. Four beaver sculptures, each four-and-a-half-feet tall, have been transformed by High Desert artists and placed in community spaces around the region. Participants in the project are artist and educator Andries Fourie, mixed-media artist Sweet Pea Cole, Indigenous artist Ellen Taylor and artist and ceramicist Jess Volk.
Dam It! Beavers and Us features immersive scenes to delight all ages, inspiring new appreciation for this resourceful animal. Grownups and kids alike can marvel at how beavers were once parachuted from the sky in wooden crates in an attempt to relocate them in an Idaho wilderness. They will also be able to view a riparian scene, experiencing how a beaver colony can transform the landscape.
“This exhibit tells an inspiring story of turning around our relationship with the beaver,” said Louise Shirley, High Desert Museum Donald M. Kerr curator of natural history and curator of Dam It! Beavers and Us. “It explores the surprising power of the humble beaver to help us combat some of the impacts of climate change, such as drought, wildfires and biodiversity loss.”
Dam It! Beavers and Us (highdesertmuseum.org/dam-it) will be on display through Sunday, October 3, 2021. It is made possible by 107.7 FM The Beat, the Oregon Cultural Trust and PGE Project Zero with support from Bend Magazine, Bespoke 3D Prints, the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, OPB, Smart Shopper and The Source Weekly.
The Museum is open daily on winter hours, 10am to 4pm, and daily programs are taking place. Rimrock Café will be open daily from 11am to 3pm for indoor and outdoor dining. The Museum store, Silver Sage Trading, is also open.