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Full EpisodeLeave it to Beavers

A growing number of scientists, conservationists and grass-roots environmentalists have come to regard beavers as overlooked tools when it comes to reversing the disastrous effects of global warming and world-wide water shortages. Once valued for their fur or hunted as pests, these industrious rodents are seen in a new light through the eyes of this novel assembly of beaver enthusiasts and “employers” who reveal the ways in which the presence of beavers can transform and revive landscapes. Using their skills as natural builders and brilliant hydro-engineers, beavers are being recruited to accomplish everything from finding water in a bone-dry desert to recharging water tables and coaxing life back into damaged lands.

Leave It to Beavers premieres Wednesday, May 14, 2014, at 8/7c on PBS.

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NARRATOR: Who can turn a desert into a garden?

WOMAN: Oh, my God. Habitat that looks like this!

It's gorgeous!

NARRATOR: When you need to save crops and cattle from the deepest drought, who you going to call?

Call a beaver.

Controlling water is what beavers have been doing for thousands of years.

No one does it better.

Every beaver family is dedicated to the job -- excavating... logging... building channels and dams.

They build whole landscapes for hundreds of other creatures.

WOMAN: In 2002, we had the worst drought on record.

The only places where we had water was where we had beaver.

NARRATOR: So after we nearly eliminated them, some very interesting people are working to bring them back.

I am a hairdresser, honey.

I like HBO, I want a toilet that flushes.

But for some season, when there's wildlife involved, especially beaver, I'm kind of fearless.

Now I'm a hairdresser and a live beaver trapper.

Hi, who's this?

Come here and see.

With the other animals that I've rehabbed, you want to limit your contact.

But for the beaver, because they're so family oriented, they need to feel nurtured.

We've brought you some new family members.

I'm delighted!

I'm not sure how many there are.

Hopefully there'll be babies.

MAN: Yeah, yeah, this is good.

WOMAN: [Laughs] It's wonderful!

NARRATOR: North America's fertile landscape is the work of one animal, more than any other.

But building a Garden of Eden isn't easy.

You must fell hundreds of trees to dam a river... then build a castle, with a moat, filled by a flood that spreads over several acres.

Yet beavers don't look like the kind of animal that can change the world.

Somewhat blind and slow, they seem like simple folk.

But this overgrown rodent is an extraordinary engineer.

The landscapes of Europe, Asia, and North America were once dominated by millions of these hardworking builders.

Beavers are vegetarians.

They gnaw through bark to eat the sugary layer underneath.

They've been gnawing through forests for 20 million years.

Felling trees with your teeth takes great strength, skill, and patience.

One technique is to slice halfway through and let the wind do the rest.

The beaver's incisors are strengthened with iron, which makes them orange.

They grow continuously and even self-sharpen.

The pond makes it easier to move around the heavy logs they need to build their dams.

Out of the water, it's a struggle.

Stones help weigh down the base.

The whole family works together, carefully interlocking the timber.

They dredge mud from the pond bottom to seal the dam.

Each pond traps several inches of sediment every year, so there's plenty of it.

The young act as apprentice builders, learning the tricks of the trade.

The final results are impressive.

In the Rocky Mountains, beaver dams slowly filter billions of tons of water.

The ponds build up soil and nutrients and help prevent floods and droughts.

But hundreds of years ago, beavers were most valued for something else.

When Europeans arrived in North America, they found beavers dominating the landscape from Mexico to the Arctic.

They were said to be industrious enough to halt the Niagara Falls.

Huzzah!

Huzzah!

NARRATOR: But their fur made fantastic felt hats.

For two hundred years they were trapped to near extinction.

Then, fashions changed, and we lost interest.

Only a few beavers survived.

Now they are recovering, but they're finding a changed world, full of houses and farms.

As beavers reclaim their ancestral ponds, they flood hundreds of human homes.

Anywhere with a rich soil was probably once a beaver pond.

Now housing developments, golf courses, and farms find that beavers are just a problem.

Though half the soil may be thanks to beavers, farmers prefer the land under their control.

But beavers don't give up.

In Canada, clearing dams from culverts under roads is the job of Highway Maintenance.

MAN: That's thousands of cubic meters of water er that we have to get rid of.

If we can't get rid of it here, where it is supposed to go, it's going to end up on the infrastructure.

It's going to end up in the ditches, it's going to end up backing up into basements, it's going to end up everywhere.

and they will figure out ways around just about everything.

We all know the water doesn't always go where we want it to.

The beaver has a very amazing way of getting it to work for 'em.

We don't always know that.

If we could learn more about their practices and how they get that to work, it would be great.

If you could train them to put it where you need it, that would be ideal.

If you could simply put up a little arrow sign or a 'water this way,' that would, yeah, you'd be smiling.

But unfortunately they don't read very well, and they just kind of do what they want to do.

NARRATOR: There is one place where the beavers do seem to be reading the signs and doing more or less as instructed.

In Gatineau Park, near Ottawa, the local beavers follow the directions of self-styled beaver whisperer Michel Leclair.

LECLAIR: Look how deep it is.

[Chuckles] But you still have beaver all around, so... NARRATOR: 30 years ago, Leclair was hired to stop beavers from flooding roads across the 140 square miles of Gatineau Park.

The only solution then was to kill the animals and destroy their dams.

Some people call them eco hero, some people call them pest.

It's all depend on how much problems you have with them.

And when you have problems with them and you don't know how to resolve them, they're not beaver hero, that's for sure, they're pest.

MAN: The major problem is flooding roads.

The beaver dam accumulates water, and if the water pressure is too big, the beaver dam just busts.

And then there's a big outflow of water that cuts roads in half.

What happens is that the road just gets cut off completely.

NARRATOR: Gatineau Park has hundreds of miles of roads, threatened in many places by beavers' damming up culverts.

LECLAIR: We were starting eight hours a day and breaking dams.

The first year I came here 82 times.

NARRATOR: Well-equipped teams dismantled dams by day.

But the beavers rebuilt them every night.

What the hell is the problem here?

What they do again, what they did again?

And you're going to fight against them.

It's going to be a war, and I'm not sure if you're going to win that.

Not sure.

NARRATOR: Leclair and his colleagues trapped 1,000 beavers a year in the wildlife park.

And beavers weren't the only ones caught.

Great blue herons, turtles, otter, you never know what you're going to get in your trap.

So I didn't like it very much.

It was horrible.

NARRATOR: Leclair wanted to find another way and thought that beaver behavior might offer a solution.

LECLAIR: First thing is sound of water running.

NARRATOR: He places a recording of a running stream on top of the beaver dam.

LECLAIR: So now you're going to see what the beaver reacts to.

And the beaver are going to dance over it over the night.

NARRATOR: A small tree takes a few minutes.

It's perhaps an hour for bigger trees and branches, and half the night for a 12-inch-thick trunk.

Aspen, poplar, and willow are usually the favorites.

Beavers have been crushed by falling trees, but that doesn't happen often.

Over the course of a year, they may clear several acres of trees.

Most rodents have a high work rate, but beavers are probably the busiest.

They have a reputation to keep up.

The dam's owners have buried the stereo with branches and mud.

That tells me that sound is very exciting for them.

That's exactly the same.

We hear that, says, 'Oh, it's time to work.'

NARRATOR: Running water is, to a beaver, like the sound of the plug being pulled, draining their pond.

Leclair thought he could use this knowledge to stop beavers from damming inside culverts and flooding nearby roads.

He spoke to his supervisor, Michel Viens.

The technique was a bit odd, but it made sense to us.

So let's try it.

Go ahead and do it, because we can't trap constantly in the park.

We had to do something else.

So that's what we did.

NARRATOR: Leclair's idea was to shift the sound of the running water.

He puts in posts 15 feet away from the culvert.

The beavers oblige by building their dam in the new location, not under the road.

He also lays down sections of pipe, and the beavers incorporate them into the dam.

LECLAIR: I'm going to open that pipe over there.

NARRATOR: When the water gets a little high, Michel simply pulls the plug for a short time and lowers the level in the pond.

[Power tool whirring] LECLAIR: You have to be a plumber.

Yeah, I'm a plumber of the beaver dam.

I put drain, like you do, like in a house to let the water running.

If it works here, it's going to work all over the place.

So we are just at the turning point where we have to spread that knowledge.

And the beavers, they are happy, cost less, less work, and everybody's happy that way.

Eh?

NARRATOR: In the Rocky Mountains, the benefits of a beaver's pond are seen most easily in spring.

Millions of acres of wetland provide safety and food for many birds and mammals.

A thousand years ago, almost every creek would have had chains of dams down each valley.

For many animals, they are still essential.

Moose make special trips to beaver ponds to eat the waterweed.

It's full of nutrients like sodium and potassium that are often scarce in the surrounding forest.

For the beavers, the pond helps to keep out bears and wolves.

[Splash] One of the parents 'tail-slaps' to sound the alarm.

The beaver family provides protection for all the residents, like a kindly landlord.

And the deeper the pond, the safer they are.

Even good swimmers, such as grizzlies, are out of their depth.

Beavers excavate deep channels as escape routes.

They can stay under, hidden, for 15 minutes.

Secret entrances and exits are the only way in and out of their fortified lodge.

Inside, safe, are the young, called kits.

It's May, and they are a few weeks old and supplementing the richest milk of any land mammal with fresh green leaves.

Unlike most rodents, beavers take years to grow up.

There's a lot to learn to become nature's greatest engineer.

They'll receive toilet training, too, using one of the underwater doors.

The one-year-olds help in the nursery by washing the bedding.

Outside is a two-year-old.

He's like a teenage apprentice, getting the final lessons before leaving home.

His father is demonstrating some basic repairs.

But even when the lodge and dam are watertight, there are major jobs still to do.

As spring progresses, the nearby trees are felled one by one.

It is the beginning of the creation of a broad meadow, rich with silt.

New ponds are created and canals dug to reach the more distant trees.

Channels wide enough for branches may reach out hundreds of yards from the original river.

Families may end up with over a dozen dams and an intricate maze of waterways.

By the 1990s, scientists began to investigate the wider effects beavers were having on the landscape.

Dr. Glynnis Hood has made them her life's work.

She lives on the edge of Elk Island National Park in Alberta.

A hundred and fifty years ago, the beavers here were all trapped and killed for the fur trade.

They were reintroduced in 1941.

Seven beavers were brought up from Banff by train and put into the park, and the beaver population was able to reestablish itself.

NARRATOR: The park kept meticulous records.

HOOD: I had these great old maps that the wardens had done by hand marking down the active and inactive sites of beaver ponds.

NARRATOR: As she trawled through 54 years of data, a pattern emerged.

It was assumed beavers built their homes where there was already lots of water, and their presence wouldn't actually increase the total amount of water by much.

What we found was the opposite, and this is when science gets really exciting -- is when you're proven wrong.

The unexpected results are the ones that make you take a second look, and I recalculated everything just to make sure I wasn't making a numerical error.

Because the results, they were spectacular.

The ponds with active beaver in them had nine times more open water in them than those exact same ponds when the beavers weren't there.

How they did that in part was they were digging these channels.

The bottom of a beaver pond is really, really convoluted.

It's like flying through the Grand Canyon, where you've got these deep, furrowed valleys and dynamic pond bottoms.

Deeper ponds keep more water, 'cause you have less evaporation coming off of them.

Well, beavers were using that to their advantage.

They were digging deeper and deeper and allowing water to focus in here, so the ponds with beaver had water.

The ponds without beaver didn't.

Plain and simple.

In 2002, we had the worst drought on record.

The only places where we had water in natural areas was where we had beaver.

And farmers were actually seeking out neighbors who had beavers on their landscape to water their cattle.

So with beavers back on the land, even during the worst drought on record, they were mitigating the effects of drought and keeping water on the landscape.

NARRATOR: Beavers turn deserts into gardens.

Dr. Suzanne Fouty and biologist Carol Evans could hardly believe what they found in Nevada.

FOUTY: Oh, my God.

EVANS: In such a desert environment, you understand the value of this.

FOUTY: You know -- okay, the pictures don't do it justice.

EVANS: They don't.

FOUTY: Oh -- EVANS: This is just a view of what -- there's probably about 20 miles of habitat that looks like this.

FOUTY: And there's vegetation everywhere.

EVANS: Everywhere.

It's gorgeous!

What you see is just one series of beaver dams after another.

Everything else is dry.

All the wildlife, everything else is keyed into this, because the uplands are completely dry.

And if we lost this, the impact would be enormous.

It is, and... FOUTY: Wow.

EVANS: That's impressive, isn't it?

FOUTY: You almost have to get -- you need to feel the wind, the heat, you need to see the green.

EVANS: And how -- FOUTY: And the water!

EVANS: I'm seeing a lot of baby wildlife being produced.

I'm seeing mule deer with their fawns up and down this whole thing.

Sandhill cranes are kind of a rare species that's declining somewhat.

So this is an important area for them.

So there's many species of wildlife that just key in to these ribbons of green.

FOUTY: It's just amazing.

Pretty good size, isn't it?

Let me record those measurements.

Okay.

So coming off the beaver dam, 1.2 feet.

All right, yes!

Watch out. It's pretty deep there.

Oh, my God!

Really drops off, huh?

I mean, you're probably like at 5½ feet deep.

EVANS: Five and a half feet deep, that's really amazing.

The amount of water storage in here is phenomenal.

If we had gone back twenty years ago here, Suzanne, this would have been a -- it would have been a couple of feet wide and a couple of inches deep, and it would have dried up.

NARRATOR: Twenty years ago, Suzie Creek was a desert.

Much of the Sierra Nevada has been slowly drying ever since cattle arrived 200 years ago.

Grass soon withers, and temperatures soar.

Creeks are muddy trickles.

EVANS: When the summer temperatures are in the 90s and 100 degrees, the stream channel dries out.

We lose our water.

There's no storage mechanism in the system.

NARRATOR: In desperation, cattle were kept away from the most damaged sections of streams.

Then, a miracle happened.

Young beavers dispersing from distant rivers battled up the streams to start new homes.

They can begin with next to nothing, eating grass and building with silt and mud.

EVANS: Almost overnight, the beaver came back in here.

And the beaver returning to Suzie Creek caught me by surprise.

-That's amazing. -FOUTY: Wow.

EVANS: You know, it's all about keeping water on the landscape.

That's the basic building blocks of life.

FOUTY: The bottom line is, it's your ace in the hole.

It's the thing that's going to pull you through the dry times, the lean times.

If the snow pack's coming off earlier and ranchers want water, then we're going to have to figure out a way to keep it on the landscape, because it's no longer going to be stored as snow in mountains.

And what beaver do in all these little itty-bitty streams is they create these small savings accounts, these pockets where it's stored -- no longer as snow, but as surface and groundwater.

NARRATOR: Understanding beavers and how they colonize new areas is vital if they are to help us.

It's mid-summer in the Rocky Mountains, and the new kits are exploring their world.

The one-year-olds are already helping more, working with Dad.

The two-year-old apprentice seems restless.

It's time for him to start his journey into the unknown.

Occasionally parents come along to help, but not this time.

He'll head upriver to establish a territory, to build a dam and a lodge, and to start a new life.

He passes through other beaver territories.

He finds dams broken and lodges empty.

The trees were depleted here after five or so years, and the family moved on.

Only the stone foundations of the old dams remain.

Even these remnants slow the flow of the river and help hold the soil that was built up in the old ponds.

Along the creeks live trout and an otter family.

Unlike otters, beavers don't eat fish.

And otters and fish don't harm beavers.

But none of them are as safe here, compared to living in a deeper, well-maintained pond.

Predators are all too effective in the shallows.

Young explorers, alone and without the protection of the pond and lodge, often get into serious trouble.

A lucky few are rescued and end up in animal rehab.

Timber was placed in Michele Grant's care in Ontario, Canada, when he got into trouble three months back.

He's well enough now to be taken for walks.

He arrived injured and traumatized.

GRANT: It turns out some teenage boys had found this little fellow, and they were pitching him around like a football.

And some girls saw that, got the baby away from them, and found out that we were a facility that would be willing to receive him.

With the other animals that I've rehabbed, you want to limit your contact because to release them having had too much contact will be detrimental.

But for the beaver, because they're so family oriented, they need to be close, they need to feel nurtured, so I worry about that.

NARRATOR: Timber, just one year old, should still have a year to learn from parents and siblings.

But Michele has no other beavers to help teach him.

GRANT: Heya, buddy.

NARRATOR: She will have to be his family and prepare him for the wild.

GRANT: Good morning.

[Timber calling] Who's a sweet man?

If I had several beavers, it would be a different experience.

They would bond with each other more than having that relationship with me.

Come here and see me.

Come right out here.

Come right out here and see me.

NARRATOR: One sign of affection between beavers is the touching of noses.

GRANT: Hi, who's a sweet boy?

Are you a sweet boy this morning?

You are a sweet boy.

Come here. Come here and see me.

Come here and see me.

Come here and see me.

Hi. Good morning.

Good morning. Good morning.

NARRATOR: Even in a wild family, beavers have to learn basic skills, like chewing the bark off sticks.

But now, months into the process, Timber is still eating beaver baby food.

GRANT: We would put sticks in, we would put branches and kind of all summer waited and waited, and there was no sticks with the bark chewed off.

I think all your sticks could still use a little work there, little man.

NARRATOR: It's a skill he needs to learn, or he'll never survive on his own.

GRANT: We try to provide an environment that will nurture behaviors that are natural for them.

So developmentally you could just tell we had kind of reached a spot where he needed more.

He needed to be in a pond environment.

Scary, because maybe he would just swim away and never come back.

So I made a decision, murky pond or not, that I would swim with him, so that I would be close and he would feel the safety of family, but that he could venture out for his development and do what beavers do.

Who's the big boy?

NARRATOR: Timber has bonded with Michele, and now it's only a question of timing.

Keep him too long, and he'll grow too attached to a human, rejecting the wild beavers he'll need to survive when he's released next year.

GRANT: Are you a hungry boy these days?

Are you a good boy?

Are you a good boy?

Eh?

NARRATOR: In contrast, the teenage apprentice, a year older and traveling upriver on his own, has survived.

He has at last found a quiet section of swampy backwater.

Beavers were here before, but not recently.

There is a disused lodge and a half-broken dam.

Maybe the food ran out, and the family left.

Now the trees are growing back, and there is plenty to eat.

The sound of escaping water is all the encouragement he needs.

Beaver dams often outlast their original builders.

The preserved wood in one dam was found to be over a thousand years old.

The water level starts to rise.

In midsummer, many young beavers are on the move.

If another male appears, the two-year-old may have to fight to stay.

Within a few days, the pond is noticeably deeper.

He's working day and night to repair the dam, with only insects and bats for company.

After a month, his fairy tale lake is ready.

All he needs now is a princess.

One night, another beaver comes traveling downstream.

A female.

Beaver courtship is rarely seen.

The couple wrestle and nuzzle and play.

Very few animals form partnerships that last a lifetime.

Like swans, beavers remain with their mates for the rest of their lives, maybe 15 years.

It's enough.

They will change the landscape together and restore a lost world.

Reintroducing beavers to heal the land is happening across North America.

[Engine starts] When Marnie Johnson was a girl, beavers filled this valley in Colorado.

I would say there were at least a dozen beaver dams.

My brother and I loved it, because if they backed up enough water, we could swim, yeah.

NARRATOR: Today Marnie and her son Mark dream of returning beavers to Beaver Creek.

I've known beaver for 81 years, and it seemed like this valley should have the beaver that were here when my father first came in and homesteaded.

And I've never been happy about not having the beaver in.

If beaver were here once, they should be here again.

It's their right to be there, probably more than ours.

NARRATOR: Five orphaned beavers are already on their way from Denver, with a little help and a lot of love.

WOMAN: I love you. No one above you.

No one above you.

Look at, oh, little sweet thing!

NARRATOR: The Johnsons' dream lies in the hands of a unique Colorado beautician.

Sherri Tippie rescues unwanted beavers in the Denver suburbs and releases them where they can do the most good.

When she's not cutting hair, that is.

I am a hairdresser, honey.

I like HBO, I want a toilet that flushes, okay, I do not camp out, baby.

I don't do those types of things, but for some reason, when there's wildlife involved, especially beaver, I'm kind of fearless.

Now I'm a hairdresser and a live beaver trapper.

NARRATOR: Sherri taught herself how to live trap 28 years ago to stop beavers from being killed on local golf courses.

Today she's the top live trapper of beavers in North America.

TIPPIE: Beaver are definitely a keystone species to an aquatic ecosystem.

A keystone is like a bridge, and you have that one stone that will hold that whole bridge together, okay, that locks it in.

Beaver lock the aquatic ecosystem in.

If you pull that one stone out, it all collapses in on itself.

Creeks and rivers are alive with life.

They're supposed to meander.

They're supposed to be curvy like me.

They move, they support life, they life.

And beaver are the keystone species that keeps that aquatic life clicking along.

NARRATOR: These beavers were rescued from a drainage ditch.

They were battling to maintain their pond in the middle of a new housing development.

TIPPIE: We're asking so much of these animals, and we're displacing them.

They've moved into a place where they should be, and we don't want them there.

So if we're going to mess around with them, then we need to treat them as well as possible and then put them at a place where they can live out their lives.

[Beavers calling] NARRATOR: Sherri's priority is keeping the family together.

TIPPIE: Okay, babies! How exciting, huh?

Now you're really moving somewhere.

I don't order them out of a catalog.

You get what I get.

If a beaver comes in a family, if they've got like four kits, that's what you're going to get.

I'm not leaving anybody behind.

[Horn honks] MARNIE: I'm delighted now to have the beaver coming back in.

And I'm not sure how many there are, but we're looking forward to it.

Hopefully there'll be babies.

TIPPIE: How you doin'? MARK: We're doing well.

TIPPIE: We brought you some new family members.

MARK: This is good.

You always want new population.

This is fantastic.

TIPPIE: I still feel the excitement.

even though I'm getting old and crotchety!

MARNIE: Hello, there.

TIPPIE: We've had them for a while.

And this little female here, her mate was hit by a car, so she's alone.

MARK: Look at the teeth.

MARNIE: Look at the teeth!

It always amazed me that those little teeth can go through aspen tree that big around!

TIPPIE: Hi, girl, hi, little girl.

And do you know something, it's not unusual to catch kits with adults, and only one time in 28 years we've caught them with the female, the mother.

They're always with their dad.

I just love that.

it's like Dad's out showing them around, showing them the ropes and stuff, it's just real sweet.

Yes!

TIPPIE: They are ready. And they just seem to know, too.

They sure do seem to know.

I think what we should do is we'll turn the little girl loose first.

Look at you, look at you.

[Beaver calling] [Laughing] Isn't that wonderful?

[Beavers calling] Yeah, yeah, this is good.

[Calling] Oh, this is a rush, I'm so pleased.

It's so exciting to see them come in and watch them splash into the clear stream.

If these beaver do what their primal ancestors did 60 years ago, where we're standing today will have four feet of water in it, and that's exciting.

You've taken a nearly 85-year-old woman back through her entire life.

This is something that will -- uh, I don't know how to put it into words, because this was my life, this was how they were.

Love the beaver, grew up with them.

Thank you.

Thanks.

MARK: Thank you and thank Sherri.

NARRATOR: Sherri's joy is tempered by her knowledge that reintroducing beavers is not without risk.

TIPPIE: We gave beaver to a sheep rancher, and lions got them.

So that's sad, so we didn't put beaver there again, you know.

So I'm like anxious for them, but then I have the best wishes for them.

There just comes a time when you have to let your kids go and build their own life, you know.

NARRATOR: In northern Ontario, Michele Grant schools Timber, the rescued one-year-old.

There's a year of training planned before he needs to be ready.

In between trips, he's making progress.

GRANT: Here, show me your sticks.

He has started to demonstrate the potential building, and we have his first stick.

Is that your stick, is that your stick?

Just this early September he started chewing sticks, so that's become quite exciting.

You know, I think they develop at different times, but he's now starting to do all the natural things that he should do.

Slowly it's all coming together.

He'll go through the pond, and he just comes back to me as kind of a safety net.

He's becoming secure in himself and secure in his abilities at the pond.

I think the biggest thing that I've seen from him is his ability to swim and breath-hold is amazing.

From the first time I had him down, he maybe went underwater for three to five seconds, really.

And now I lose him, he's gone for maybe up to a minute or more.

Good boy, who's a good boy, eh?

Who's a good boy?

NARRATOR: Still, Michele believes Timber is not nearly ready to go it alone.

GRANT: We certainly have a ways to go in his development and certainly they don't mature till they're two.

He would not make it through his first year on his own.

NARRATOR: But Timber appears to disagree, and suddenly vanishes.

GRANT: You could always feel his presence.

And I couldn't.

And so I knew he wasn't there, there was no beaver in that pond.

He was gone.

NARRATOR: She searched for six hours.

Now all Michele can do is wait.

Fall is a busy time for wild beavers.

In the Rocky Mountains and away from home for the first time, a two-year-old has repaired a vacant pond and managed to find a young mate.

The couple is fixing up the lodge.

As soon as the kits come, it will fall to the young male to keep their home sealed and secure all winter -- just like his dad showed him.

Inside, they have hollowed out chambers for sleeping and eating and have made several underwater entrances.

The end of summer is when beavers stock their larder, and this inexperienced pair may have left it too late.

Beavers don't hibernate, so they'll need food.

They set to work cutting trees and storing them underwater.

Branches are wedged in the mud so that they remain underwater.

The pond will freeze on the surface, but their stores will stay fresh and accessible all winter.

At least, that's the plan.

Moose also eat leaves and branches, and as the aspen turn, a young male tries to take advantage of the beavers' hard work and raid the larder.

[Splash] The beaver tries to head off the moose.

[Moose bellowing] Stocking the underwater food store is as important a job as managing the dam or the lodge.

They race against the oncoming winter.

Back in Ontario, Michele Grant's first attempt to bring up an orphaned beaver has gone wrong.

Timber disappeared weeks ago, and there's no sign of him.

Today, she's blaming herself.

GRANT: What did I do? Did I make the right moves?

I'm constantly wondering, did I do the right things?

I felt that I needed to continue to look for him, to find evidence one way or the other whether he survived.

So I went out regularly, and several weeks after he had released, I found a beaver skull out in the field that had come from the pond.

I've never found a beaver skull in that field before.

I truly, I was devastated.

I thought, 'I'm not even sure if I can continue rehab work,' because I wasn't ready for that, I wasn't prepared, it wasn't kind of the story I'd written of how I wanted his release to go.

So, it was shocking for me.

And then one day I went to a neighbor's pond and... He was there.

Within a very short period of time, I saw him interacting with an adult beaver.

There was a mom, there was two kits, and he appeared to take on the role of the yearling -- part of raising the young ones, being part of this beaver family.

And he surfaced right beside my kayak, just through the lily pads.

And there I looked down, and there was this little head.

And then the mom or one of the kits had come by and rippled the water, and it was time to go back and be part of his family, and he just dove down, and off he went.

So it was awesome.

It was like, 'Thanks very much, but I'm wild.'

Honestly, as a rehabber, hoping that I was doing the right things, it was all validated in that moment.

NARRATOR: If any animal can represent the spirit of North America, it should be the beaver.

They battle the elements with courage, furnish a home they built themselves, and support a devoted family.

Like the early settlers, beavers stock up a larder, then hunker down for the winter.

Outside, wolves and coyotes are hungry and homeless.

Bears retreat to hibernate the months away.

For a pair of young wild beavers, the larder runs out before spring arrives.

The male has to risk the predators to collect food.

[Animals calling] Beavers do slow down a bit in winter, but they still keep busy, sorting out food and bedding.

They need to.

There's a new family on the way.

And they are not alone.

Inside the lodge are lodgers.

A muskrat couple.

They share the grass and branches the beavers supply.

While it's minus twenty outside, it's rarely been known to freeze inside.

So it's also a refuge for frogs and insects.

There's a deer mouse family.

It's quite a hotel to run all winter.

Beavers, with their ponds in summer watering the desert and their lodges and larders in winter, support the whole community.

They all seem to get along.

In fact, there was only one intruder the beavers objected to, and that was us and our little cameras, which they soon dealt with.

Perhaps, after all we've put them through for centuries, we owe them a bit of space.