The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in favor of beavers — in 1939

A lawsuit between two landowners

Beaver Dam
Beaver dam. Wyoming Game and Fish Department photo.

When Paul Stewart bought his rangeland in Eastern Oregon in 1884 it included a meadow with “stirrup-high native grasses”. The sub-irrigation provided by Crane Creek was amplified by several families of industrious beavers who had built numerous dams across the stream to form ponds for their homes.

In 1924 he left his farm for a year and upon returning found that poachers had trapped and removed the beavers. The dams had washed out and over the next 12 years the meadow and the creek was transformed. Uncontrolled flood waters eroded the banks, cutting into his valuable crop land. The stream was flowing 15 feet below its original level and the water table had dropped. The meadow was drying up and a well was barely producing any water.

Mr. Stewart arranged for the Oregon State Game Commission to bring him sixteen of nature’s hydraulic engineers — native beavers.

Below is an excerpt from a document written in 1941 by Paul W. Schaffer, the Regional Biologist for the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region.

“The beavers began their reclamation work at once. They erected strong dams almost overnight; they sent huge cottonwoods and aspen crashing into the gully; they built more and more dams.

“When the heavy spring run-off came, water that for the past twelve years had rushed through the stream channel to be lost in the river below was caught behind the beaver dams and stored in large ponds which acted as settling basins for the silt-laden waters. At each flood stage of the stream, inches of soil were added to the bottom of the deepened channel. As the ponds were filled, excess water flowed over well-designed spillways and continued down the stream.”

The average summer streamflow of the preceding twelve years was increased considerably by the water escaping from storage. Water from the ponds percolated into the banks to the adjacent fields. Hay production in the meadows improved. The well again supplied ample stock water. The ugly erosion scar through the meadow was healing.

To make a long story shorter, Mr. Stewart’s downstream neighbor, Lloyd Johnson, urged Mr. Stewart to remove the beaver dams thinking it would improve the condition of his own eroded land. He did not realize that if the dams were blown up that the water would simply flow through his land, unimpeded by any structures, resulting in little if any change in his water table.

Mr. Johnson filed a lawsuit to have the beaver dams removed. He won. The judge ordered Mr. Stewart to within five days ask the State Game Commission to remove the beavers and the dams. He was also ordered to pay a $300 contempt fine and was threatened with three months in jail if he did not comply.

Mr. Stewart appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court which ruled in his favor, writing in part:

“To deny our water users the right to control such streams and prevent the erosion that would soon take place would mean the utter destruction of much of our most valuable lands throughout the state.”

Below is Mr. Schaffer’s nine-page beautifully written and typed description of Mr. Stewart’s experience with the beavers, crafted in 1941. It even includes an epilogue. Notice how both the right and left margins are justified, a long and tedious process when done on a typewriter. (You may also download the document.)

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It would be very interesting to know the present condition of Mr. Stewart’s former property, which he sold shortly after the 1939 court cases.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has a helpful guide to the beaver’s role in riparian habitat management.

In case you missed it, check out our May 5, 2021 article about how beavers can affect wildfires.

If you’re still starving for more information about beavers, Heidi Perryman, Co-Chair of last month’s California Beaver Summit, tells us that their website has information about presentations made at the conference, including the effects on wildfires, managing the challenges beavers can cause for landowners, and the value beaver engineering can have for the drying state of California. She said two of the researchers mentioned in our May 5 article, Dr. Emily Fairfax and Dr. Joe Wheaton, gave keynote talks at the conference. There were also speakers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, US Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly for letting us know about this case.

Safely training the tactical athlete

Above: Firefighters on the Apple Fire, March 28, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Today we are reprising a second article from our archives about heat related injuries and extreme physical exertion among wildland firefighters.

As we reported in the first Throwback Thursday article, Dr. Brent Ruby, who has studied firefighters as they worked on fires, said regarding the 2011 hyperthermia fatality on the CR 337 fire in Texas:

The lessons learned from this research clearly indicate that the best protection against a heat injury is reducing work rate.

Aggressive hydration strategies are over-preached and may provide a false sense of protection. It should be emphasized that the autopsy report as described in the fatality report indicated no signs of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance.

With that in mind, below is the article we wrote in 2016 after reports were released on two very serious injuries that occurred during the first two days of training for new firefighters.


Safely training the tactical athlete

EMTAfter reading the Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) about the Rhabdomyolysis (Rhabdo) injury that occurred May 2, 2016 in South Dakota on the first day of the fire season after running for more than nine miles before doing uphill sprints, I started thinking about, not so much WHAT happened, but how to prevent similar serious injuries.

A couple of weeks before the Rhabdo case, on April 19 a wildland firefighter in the Northwest suffered a heat stroke while running on day 2 of their season. The employee was unconscious for several hours and spent four days in the hospital.

Both of these exercise-induced conditions can be life-threatening; 33 percent percent of patients diagnosed with Rhabdo develop a quick onset of kidney failure, and 8% of all cases are fatal.

Heat stroke can also kill, according to Medscape:

When therapy is delayed, the mortality rate may be as high as 80%; however, with early diagnosis and immediate cooling, the mortality rate can be reduced to 10%.

These two very serious incidents in a two week period that occurred at the beginning of the fire season should be a wakeup call for agencies employing wildland firefighters.

I am not a medical or exercise specialist, but neither were any of the four members of the South Dakota Rhabdo FLA team. It was comprised of a District Fire Management Officer, a Natural Resources Specialist, an Assistant Superintendent on a Hotshot crew, and an Assistant Fire Engine Operator.

A person might expect that for an exercise-induced injury that is fatal in eight percent of the cases, a medical expert and an exercise physiologist would be members of the team. The FLA concentrated on recognizing symptoms of Rhabdo, which is good. Firefighters need to be be informed, again, about what to look for. But the necessity of treating the symptoms could be avoided if the condition was prevented in the first place.

Prevention was not addressed in the document, except to mention availability of water. Dehydration isn’t the leading cause of Rhabdo, which is caused by exertion, but it can be a contributing factor.

With two life-threatening medical conditions on firefighting crews in a two-week period that occurred during mandatory exercise on day one and two of training, medical and exercise professionals perhaps could have evaluated what caused the injuries, and suggested how to design and implement a physical fitness program that would lessen the chances of killing firefighters on their first or second day on the job. But the LEARNING opportunity of the FLA was squandered.

The wildland fire agencies are not alone in hiring people off the streets and throwing them into a very physically demanding job. The military does this every day, as do high school athletic programs. There is probably a large body of research that has determined how to turn a person into an athlete without putting their lives in danger.

While the three firefighters and the natural resources specialist I’m sure meant well and did the best they could to write the FLA within the limits of their training and experience, the firefighting agencies need to get serious about a professional level exercise training program. After all, they are employing TACTICAL ATHLETES.

This issue is serious enough that the NWCG (since there is no National Wildland Firefighting Agency) should hire an exercise physiologist who can design, implement, and monitor a program for turning people off the street into tactical firefighting athletes.

The myth of drinking water

“Aggressive hydration strategies are over-preached and may provide a false sense of protection”, Dr. Brent Ruby said.

Above: Firefighter on the Shep Canyon fire in South Dakota, September 6, 2011. Photo: Bill Gabbert/Wildfire Today.

As we officially enter Summer this week in the northern hemisphere, it’s a good time to revisit an article we wrote in 2011 about heat-related injuries.


After reading our excerpt and later the full document from the the Serious Accident Investigation Factual Report  for the hyperthermia fatality of Caleb Hamm on the CR 337 fire in Texas, we heard from Dr. Brent Ruby, who has completed studies on this exact issue, even having studied wildland firefighters while they were working on fires. In one of his studies he was monitoring a wildland firefighter outfitted with a core temperature monitor, an ambient temperature sensor, and a special Camelback hydration system that monitored his water intake. This firefighter experienced a heat-related illness, heat exhaustion, and had to be evacuated off the fireline by a helicopter. That was a terrible thing to happen to a firefighter, and I’m sure the researchers thought the same thing, but it was probably a once in a lifetime cornucopia of incredibly useful data. Dr. Ruby sent us this message, reprinted here with his permission:

I was bothered by the findings of the CR337 fatality report from the investigation team. There are issues within this case that are very similar to a published heat exhaustion case study we published recently (Wilderness and Environmental Medicine 22, 122-125, 2011, In this report, we document drinking behavior, activity patterns, skin and core temperatures in a subject that suffered heat exhaustion and required evacuation. The lessons learned from this research clearly indicate that the best protection against a heat injury is reducing work rate. [*the abstract from the study is below]

Aggressive hydration strategies are over-preached and may provide a false sense of protection. It should be emphasized that the autopsy report as described in the fatality report indicated no signs of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. I have tried to push these concepts to crews and safety officers when I get a chance to speak to them at meetings. I was bothered by this fatality knowing that it is seemingly directly linked to some of our research findings. I have tried to emphasize this to anyone that will listen in the world of wildfire.

You can certainly review our website to gain a better understanding of the publications we have done from research with the WLFF We have a great deal of physiological data, hydration, energy demands of the job, importance of supplemental feedings, etc. from all our work over the years. This peer reviewed research provides objective, scientific evidence that can be used to to change or influence policy to enhance safety on the line.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Regards, Brent Ruby

Brent C. Ruby, Ph.D., FACSM

Director, Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism, The University of Montana

* Here is the abstract from the study:

Wilderness Environ Med. 2011 Jun;22(2):122-5.

High work output combined with high ambient temperatures caused heat exhaustion in a wildland firefighter despite high fluid intake.

Cuddy JS, Ruby BC.

Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism, The University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812-1825, USA.

The purpose of this case study is to examine the physiological/behavioral factors leading up to heat exhaustion in a male wildland firefighter during wildland fire suppression. The participant (24 years old, 173 cm, 70 kg, and 3 years firefighting experience) experienced heat exhaustion following 7 hours of high ambient temperatures and arduous work on the fire line during the month of August. At the time of the heat-related incident (HRI), core temperature was 40.1 °C (104.2 °F) and skin temperature was 34.4 °C (93.9 °F). His work output averaged 1067 counts·min(-1) (arbitrary units for measuring activity) for the 7 hours prior to the HRI, a very high rate of work over an extended time period during wildfire suppression.

In the 2.5 hours leading up to the heat incident, he was exposed to a mean ambient temperature of 44.6 °C (112.3 °F), with a maximum temperature of 59.7 °C (139.5 °F). He consumed an average of 840 mL·h(-1) in the 7 hours leading up to the incident and took an average of 24 ± 11 drinks·h(-1) (total of 170 drinks). The combined effects of a high work rate and high ambient temperatures resulted in an elevated core temperature and a higher volume and frequency of drinking than typically seen in this population, ultimately ending in heat exhaustion and removal from the fire line.

The data demonstrate that heat-related incidents can occur even with aggressive fluid intake during wildland fire suppression.

Unfortunately, even though Dr. Ruby’s research is funded by taxpayers through the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense, taxpayers are blocked from seeing the full results unless they pay a fee to the privately owned company that published the paper. We have written before about the results of taxpayer-funded wildfire-related research being held hostage by private companies. Dr. Ruby told Wildfire Today that he will send a copy of his paper to individuals that write to him at brent dot ruby at mso dot umt dot edu

The combined information about the fatality of Caleb Hamm on the CR 337 fire and Dr. Ruby’s study on wildland firefighters, is shocking. From the abstract, again:

The data demonstrate that heat-related incidents can occur even with aggressive fluid intake during wildland fire suppression.

Working on a wildfire on a hot day can lead to heat exhaustion and hyperthermia, and can be fatal EVEN IF a person drinks plenty of water and is not dehydrated.

Symptoms and prevention

We asked Dr. Ruby for more information:

Exertional hyperthermia occurs when the metabolic heat production from hard work overwhelms the bodies ability to off load it to the environment. This unloading can be blocked by clothing and/or slowed due to high radiant heat from the sun or an adjacent fire.

The basic symptoms of heat exhaustion are commonplace and can include profuse sweating, weakness, nausea, sometimes vomiting, lightheadedness, headache and sometimes mild muscle cramps.

The best approach [to prevent heat exhaustion and hyperthermia] is to know thyself and thy physical limits. Establishing a pace schedule that allows temperature to come back down in between periods of work that result in a rise in temperature. The factors of importance are pace, fitness level for the task at hand, hydration behaviors and simultaneously electrolyte concentrations in the blood.

It is important for wildland firefighters to drink plenty of water, but this will not, by itself, totally eliminate all chances of heat-related illness.

Be careful out there.


UPDATE  October 27, 2011:

Dr. Ruby sent us the following list of other publications on similar topics that are in peer reviewed journals. I assume that most of them are not available to the public (don’t get me started on that again!) unless you pay the ransom fees at the private companies, or send a message to Dr. Ruby:  brent dot ruby at mso dot umt dot edu

Dr Ruby articles


UPDATE October 28, 2011:

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has an excellent article about heatstroke, which can follow heat cramps and heat exhaustion and is life-threatening. The article includes causes, symptoms, first aid, what not to do, when to call 911, and prevention (including “avoid exercise or strenuous physical activity outside during hot or humid weather”. Good luck with that one, firefighters.)