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Lewis and Clark in North Dakota:
Wildlife Then & Now

Mammals


Beaver (Beaver) Past Beaver Distribution Map of North Dakota Present Beaver Distribution Map of North Dakota
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Beaver (Beaver)

In 1738 La Verendrye, the first European known to visit North Dakota, walked down from Manitoba to establish trade relations with the Mandan and scout the area for beaver. These highly sought animals were abundant throughout the northern Great Plains anywhere that wooded stream banks provided food and cover. Between 1801 and 1808 nearly 13,000 beaver were harvested from the area surrounding the Pembina Post of the North West Fur Trading Company.

In just 16 short years (1792-1808) beaver populations surrounding the Pembina post became so depleted that it was closed. Lewis and Clark found beaver abundant along the Missouri River, particularly above the mouth of the Little Missouri River. Fur traders quickly followed Lewis and Clark up the Missouri River in search of the wealth beaver could provide. By the late 1820s and early 1830s the beaver trade had reached its peak in North Dakota. As many as 25,000 beaver were brought into Fort Union, near present-day Williston, in 1833.

It is striking how quickly the beaver fur trade, the driving force that opened the West, had passed. By 1839, no beaver were traded at Fort Clark, near present-day Washburn, and only scattered populations remained in the state. Beaver remained scarce until after 1900. Between 1910 and 1920 beaver colonies started to reappear on the Missouri River and its major tributaries and numbers continued to build during the 1930s and 1940s. During the early 1950s the number of beaver harvested dramatically increased. Today beaver are once again found in most of the streams and river systems capable of supporting a colony.


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