Beavers nearly recovered after Willard Bay fuel spill

A Tuesday, March 26, 2013 photo provided by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah shows a baby beaver receiving its first bath just after it's arrival at the Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. Gov. Gary Herbert is calling Chevron's latest pipeline spill unacceptable. Herbert appeared angry Thursday, March 28, 2013, telling reporters he will make certain Chevron cleans up the mess. The leak is Chevron's third in Utah in the last three years. State officials are crediting a beaver dam for containing the fuel spill at Willard Bay State Park, but it left a family of beavers with petroleum burns. (AP Photo/Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah)

WILLARD (AP) – Six beavers are nearing full recovery after they were contaminated in a March diesel fuel spill in Utah.

DaLyn Erickson, 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,” Erickson told the Deseret News.

“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.” She added.

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 Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials.

“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 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 told the Deseret News.

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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