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Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah
One of six beavers is treated by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah after being contaminated during the March 14, 2013, oil spill at Willard Bay.
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. —DaLyn Erickson, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah

WILLARD, Box Elder County — Six beavers caught in a diesel fuel spill near Willard Bay in March are just weeks away from full recovery and release back into the wild.

Upon their release, the beavers also have a chance to give back by helping with a habitat rehabilitation project.

Just as the cleanup of the 600-barrel diesel fuel leak has been tedious, the beavers’ road to recovery has been long. But things seem to be looking up for both the beavers and the bay.

Credited with helping to contain the March 18 fuel leak, several beaver ponds were destroyed, and the beavers themselves suffered severe burns and major health issues.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah has nursed the beavers to back to health, said DaLyn Erickson, executive director of the Ogden nonprofit organization.

“To think about what they’ve been through and where they’ve come today is absolutely astounding,” Erickson said. “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.”

The fuel spill left the beavers in poor condition, with burned fur and skin, as well as respiratory and gastrointestinal issues. Now, the beavers have grown most of their fur back, fought off burn infections and healed from several other health issues caused by the diesel spill, she said.

All their respiratory and intestinal issues have cleared up, with the exception of one beaver that still has some 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 said.

Because the beavers must be released with enough time to gather food and build a lodge for the winter, Erickson said she hopes they will be released within three weeks, and she’s optimistic about making the time crunch.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials have found a new niche both the beavers and an environmentally degraded Rich County watershed will appreciate, said Phil Douglass, the division's northern outreach conservation manager.

“That’s what beavers do,” Douglass said. “They come in and build dams, restore the water table and restore vegetation. We’re really looking forward to seeing the results that they can produce in this habitat restoration project.”

The DWR also assisted the rehabilitation center by selecting a veterinarian and providing guidance on how to best treat the beavers, he said.

“It’s really been a team effort all the way around to make sure that these beavers get the best care that they possibly can and get released in the best way that they possibly can,” Douglass said. “I’m grateful that we’ve been able to find a good solution that was ultimately best for the beavers.”

Erickson said the beavers’ recovery would not have been possible without members of the community who helped in many ways, including cleaning and gathering wood for the beavers to eat.

“It was almost overwhelming to take on this enormous challenge of getting them back to health,” she said. “But the outreach of the community has been incredible, and to see the beavers come back to health has been an incredible experience. The whole thing in many different ways has been pretty amazing.”

As for Willard Bay, active cleanup of the spill 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 from diesel spill residuals, said John Whitehead, the department's assistant director

Soil and water samples have been sent to state labs, and a risk assessment is expected to be complete by mid-July. Based on those results, state park officials can decide whether to open the North Marina and its campground in Willard Bay State Park, Whitehead said.

Although active cleanup is finished, 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.”

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com