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Environmental groups win promise by federal wildlife-killing agency to stop slaughtering beavers and other beneficial species.

PHOTO BY LARRY PALMER, COURTESY OF U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE - Beavers, known as 'nature's engineers,' can annoy some property owners, but they provide vital services to improve ecological functioning of rivers, streams and wetlands. Wildlife Services, a wildlife-killing unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has agreed to halt killing beavers, river otter, muskrat and mink in Oregon, in response to a threatened lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and Northwest Environmental Advocates.

Despite beavers' well-documented ecological benefits, the unit killed more than 400 beavers in Oregon in 2016, using traps, snares and firearms, according to the environmental groups.

Beavers — Oregon's state animal — are often seen as a nuisance by private property owners, though they help create better habitat in rivers and wetlands for salmon and other species.

"It's way past time for Wildlife Services to recognize the unique and essential role that beavers play in building habitat upon which so many other animals depend," said Nina Bell, executive director of the Portland-based Northwest Environmental Advocates, in a prepared statement.

Wildlife Services agreed to analyze the impacts of its "aquatic mammal damage management" program on species covered by the Endangered Species Act by consulting with the National Marine Fisheries Services. Wildlife Services also agreed to prepare a biological assessment by Feb. 28.

"We'll keep the pressure on Wildlife Services and make sure that beavers are protected, not persecuted." said Collette Adkins, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney and biologist, in a prepared statement.

The two conservation groups, which filed their notice of intent to sue in November, are being represented by Adkins and Andrew Hawley of the Western Environmental Law Center.

"It is well established that beavers are critically important to healthy ecosystems, so it makes little sense for Wildlife Services to kill them without understanding the consequences of its actions," Hawley said. "We will continue to pursue the steps necessary to ensure Wildlife Services ends the taxpayer-funded open season on beavers in Oregon."

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