Willard beavers near full recovery

Jul 7 2013 - 10:15pm

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One of six rescued beavers eats a mixture of critical care and baby food through a syringe at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden in April. (Standard-Examiner file photo)
One of six rescued beavers eats a mixture of critical care and baby food through a syringe at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden in April. (Standard-Examiner file photo)

OGDEN -- Six beavers are nearing full recovery after they were contaminated in a March diesel fuel spill at Willard Bay State Park.

DaLyn Erickson-Marthaler, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, said she's hopeful the beavers can be released back into the wild within three weeks.

"To think about what they've been through and where they've come today is absolutely astounding," she said.

"I was shocked. I didn't expect them to heal as quickly and as well as they did. For them to come to a state now where they're healthy, happy, moving around and looking sleek and beautiful is pretty moving."

A Chevron pipeline failed on March 18 and leaked about 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

A beaver dam is credited with holding back much of the fuel from drifting into Willard Bay in Box Elder County, but the beavers were burned by the petroleum and suffered respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.

Plans call for the beavers to be released in a Rich County watershed where they can help a habitat rehabilitation project, said officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

"That's what beavers do. They come in and build dams, restore the water table and restore vegetation," said Phil Douglass, the agency's northern outreach conservation manager.

"We're really looking forward to seeing the results that they can produce in this habitat restoration project."

All the beavers' respiratory and intestinal issues have cleared up, with the exception of one beaver that still has symptoms of pneumonia, Erickson-Marthaler said.

"Until they're out the door, we never say 100 percent, but we're 99 percent sure they'll all be released back into the wild," she said.

Meanwhile, active cleanup of the spill at Willard Bay is complete, and Utah Department of Environmental Quality officials are now assessing the area to determine if any further risk to the ecosystem or human health remains, said John Whitehead, the agency's assistant director.

But Willard Bay's full environmental recovery will most likely take a season or two of vegetative growth, he said.

"(The area) has been greatly disturbed because of the cleanup that had to occur," Whitehead said.

"It's not like nothing happened, but I think the prospects for recovery are good."

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