The beaver pelt in his office reminds Peter Busher of the college road trip that drove him to study beaver ecology.
“When I was a junior, my oldest brother knew I liked to ski,” recalls Busher, a College of General Studies professor of natural sciences and mathematics and acting chair of the Division of Natural Sciences & Mathematics. “I was in San Francisco, and he asked if I wanted to drive to Utah, which has great skiing. All I had to do for gas money was pick up some beaver pelts in Salt Lake City for him.”
Then a biology major, Busher struck up a conversation with a rancher on the beaver farm and was drawn to learn more about the mammals. Since then, he’s accumulated scores of interesting beaver facts and has become a well-known expert on the semiaquatic rodents.
Beavers, for example, are second only to humans in their ability to change and adapt to their environment. The herbivores, once prized for their fur and almost hunted to extinction, use their strong teeth and powerful jaws to bring down trees. They create large log, branch, and mud structures to block streams and turn fields and forests into ponds.
Construction projects aside, beavers are among the 3 percent of mammals that are long-term monogamous, staying in relationships from 3 to 10 years.
“Beavers are very important to the environment and very interesting behaviorally,” Busher says. “They are big rodents, but they have very complex behaviors. Their food habits are very interesting. Their influence on the environment is very interesting. So I guess what I like about beavers is that there are a lot of questions, a lot of things to explore.”