Understanding the American Beaver

 We wondered: Could beavers help us to understand our region in a new and wonderful way? And in a way that could help us understand more about planning and what it means to be a planner?

-Planning in the Pacific Northwest, Master of Urban and Regional Planning, Portland State University Students

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Beavers Are Amazing: A Beaver Zine

During the 2017 Winter Term, eight graduate students from the Master of Urban and Regional Planning, Master of Fine Arts, and Master of Environmental Science and Management programs at Portland State University engaged in a study of beavers in the Pacific Northwest.  The question was whether better understanding the beaver could help us understand more about the culture, identity, and character of the Pacific Northwest, particularly for those of us engaged in planning and other activities with and for communities in the region.

The project had two components.  First, each student identified a topic associated with beavers, and developed a research paper that explored that topic.  All of those papers are posted here for your use and enjoyment.  During the term we read Frances Backhouse’s Once they were Hats, her very informative and engaging book about beavers in North America.  Thanks to Esther Lev, Wetlands Conservancy Executive Director, and Sara Vickerman Gage, we were able to spend a morning discussing the book with Frances Backhouse.  We gratefully acknowledge the importance of both Frances’ work and her presence in the class with us.  If you are interested in and/or care about beavers, do read her book!

Second, each student used their paper as the point of departure for creating pages for a class “zine” about beavers.  A zine is a short, self-published, and mostly hand-crafted magazine.  Usually combining words and images, the zine form attempts to both transmit information to and engage the imagination of the reader.  Preliminary research in Portland revealed hardly any zines about or featuring beavers.  We aimed to fill that void, at least in part.

Fortunately, Portland and Portland State University is an epicenter for zine culture and thought.  The Independent Publishing Resource Center helps any interested community member learn the basics of zine production.  Most important for our project, Kate Bingaman-Burt, a PSU professor and designer, teacher, and zine maker extraordinaire, led a zine workshop for the class, and really carried the final product over the finish line.  The final product is also posted here for your enjoyment, and exists in the universe as an imprint of Kate’s Yes Press.  We humbly and gratefully thank Kate for her amazing skills and her contribution to this project. Thanks, Kate!

All the products of our beaver project are here for your use.  Feel free to use and share them.  We learned a lot and what we learned demonstrates that digging into the life and times of the beaver in our region does, in fact, lead to a new understanding of and appreciation for the territory.  For planners, artists, and environmental managers alike, the message is clear: go exploring!  Wiggle your way into the interstices of the biophysical, ecological, historical, cultural, and sociopolitical nature of your region. Both you and your practice will be better off for it, guaranteed.


Beavers Are Amazing: A Beaver Zine
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The Community Builder: Beaver’s Role in the Ecological Community
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Beaverton’s Beavers: A Story of War and Cohabitation
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From Mountains to Tidal Marshes: A Comparison of Beaver Hydrogeomorphology in the Pacific Northwest
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Evaluating the Evolution of Historic Depictions of Beavers and Beaver Culture
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Spatial Relationship of Potential Beaver Dams in the Tualatin Watershed of Portland Oregon
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Travels with Beavers
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These Trees Taste Different: Beaver Relocation Stories
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Conservation and “Fur Deserts”: Hudson’s Bay Company Land Management Strategies in the Pacific Northwest, 1821-1845