West Texas Beaver Wetlands: The Historic Record


When European settlers arrived in North America in the 1500s, they found as many as 400 million beavers. These four-footed water engineers had created—and maintained—an estimated 50 million acres of beaver ponds. Beavers populated the Rio Grande and its tributaries.

Sadly, their valuable pelts were their undoing. In the 100 years following the founding of Santa Fe in 1609, West Texas’ beavers were decimated in a trapping onslaught by European and Native American fur traders.  As illustrated in the map below, successive waves continued across the continent; as one area was exhausted, another was exploited. By 1900, beavers had been all but eliminated across the continental U.S. and southern Canada, along with 99.5% of their ponds. This changed continental hydrology, harming watersheds and ecological systems.

Quoting the authors, “Beavers are slowly being restored with dramatic environmental results. Dam building by beavers naturally and economically restores freshwater wetlands, which have been rated as the world’s most valuable terrestrial ecosystem in terms of natural services. Such services include providing water storage, climate regulation, and wildlife habitat.”

The authors continue, “The potential contribution of beavers as partners in helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and other environmental problems, such as the rising rate of species extinction, is considerable.”

This is especially true in the deserts of far-West Texas, where beaver restoration in the Rio Grande and its tributaries could be transformative to our desertified habitats and their dwindling wildlife populations.


NOTE: this article below is from BeaversWW.org and can be found here. It was written by Sharon T. Brown and Suzanne Fouty.


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  • I actually ran across a huge beaver many years ago while fishing some canals near Vinton Tx. I couldn’t believe it but it was there. Seen many muskrats but this was a full fledged 25-lb beaver! Crazy what you see in the outdoors.

    • For non-West Texans, Vinton Texas is on the east bank of the Rio Grande, near El Paso. Beavers belong in this river, they probably come down from New Mexico and across from old Mexico. Of course they would be in the irrigation canals that divert river water to the big orchards along the river.

      Thanks Chad.

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