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Desert Diary


Beavers played an important role in opening the West to the people of the young United States. Trappers after Beaver pelts ventured far and wide, and spread news of the wonders of the lands beyond the frontier.

But what about the Chihuahuan Desert? Beavers require water, scarce in our region—except for the Rio Grande. And that's where desert-dwelling Beavers occurred historically.

Riparian trees, such as cottonwoods and willows, were available for food. However, the traditional Beaver dams and lodges, suitable for small streams but not a major river, were absent. Burrows dug from the river into the banks, with openings deep enough to be underwater even during dry spells, led upward to the snug dens.

As crop irrigation took hold in the Rio Grande Valley, Beavers and their burrows played havoc with irrigation systems, and according to newspaper reports, bounties were placed on this large rodent in the early part of the 20th century.

Despite bounties, canalization of the river, and urbanization, a few Beaver still manage to eke out a living in the El Paso region—a reminder of when the river was wild.
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio, University of Texas at El Paso.

photo of beaver

Beaver (Castor canadensis). Photographer: Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles, 1963, Dos Palos, Merced County, CA. © 1999 by California Academy of Sciences.



Smith, D. W. 1999. American Beaver / Castor candensis. Pp. 548-552, in The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals (D. E. Wilson and S. Ruff, eds). Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 750 pp.

Web Resources

Beaver. A short, general introduction.

Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan. Good introduction to the animal.