The watershed body: Transgressing frontiers in riverine sciences, planning stochastic multispecies worlds

Cleo Assan Woelfle-Erskine


In conversation with Eva Hayward’s writing on transgender embodiment, this paper explores how beaver modify landscapes differently than human engineers, and how human engineering might be transformed through riverine collaborations with beavers. Considering the body variously as a body of water — a river, which draws together all of the above and underground water in a watershed — as like our own trans bodies, and as a slippery double for the psyche of an Anthropocene engineer, July Cole and I argued that thinking with beaver as stochastic transgressors against Manifest Destiny engineering projects could transfigure engineers approaches to their work and river restoration more broadly. What if, rather than trapping beavers into service as “ecosystem engineers,” we assert that humans should engineer as beavers do, in ways that create porous boundaries between land and water and up- and downstream, by way of stick-and-mud, leaky, temporary dams? Here, I theorize a transfigured watershed body through human-beaver-salmon encounters at three salmon recovery sites in the Pacific west: a Karuk-led project on the Klamath river, agency-led beaver relocation projects in the Methow and Yakima watershed, and a citizen science-agency collaborative project in the beaverless Salmon Creek and Russian River watersheds. All three stories concern river and salmon recovery in the Pacific West, where either humans or beavers have initiated collaborative projects to raise water tables, keep rivers from going dry, and improve salmon habitat. These scientists and local knowledge holders’ encounters with beavers and their ponds thick with salmon are inspiring them to change how they undertake habitat restoration projects and also spurring some to reconsider the proper task of human ecologists and engineers, into a mode inspired by beavers themselves.





salmon, beavers, embodiment, watershed, field science

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Copyright (c) 2018 Cleo Assan Woelfle-Erskine


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