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The North American Beaver serves as the state animal of Oregon, a state located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. This species is known by the scientific name Castor Canadensis. It is, however, commonly referred to in the U.S. and Canada as simply "the beaver."
Oregon traces its origins to the early 1800s, when years of dispute between the Americans and the British over land in the Pacific Northwest — called Oregon County and Columbia by the U.S. and Britain, respectively — was settled with the Oregon Treaty of 1846. With a British-American boundary established, the territory that the U.S. received as a result eventually became the 33rd state of the Union on 14 February 1859.
The beaver, however, was not adopted as the state animal of Oregon until 110 years later. In the meantime, other animals were adopted, albeit in more species-specific terms. For example, in 1927, the Oregon Audubon Society sponsored a poll of Oregon school children that led then-Governor Isaac Patterson to proclaim the Western Meadowlark, or Sturnella neglecta, as the state bird. Likewise, in 1961, the Chinook Salmon, or Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, reputed as the largest salmon in the world and mostly found along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, was designated the Oregon state fish — not by proclamation, but by state legislature action.
The relatively late nature of the beaver's adoption as the state animal of Oregon can perhaps be blamed on its dwindling numbers. As the only beaver species in North America as well as the continent's largest rodent, the American beaver was very valuable because of its fur. Unfortunately for the animal, extensive trapping during the North American fur trade of the 17th and 18th centuries nearly reduced it to extinction.
In 1969, the beaver was finally adopted by the Oregon legislature as the state animal of Oregon. As a symbol of its prominence, the beaver now is depicted on the reverse side of the state flag. Notably, the flag is the only one in the U.S. with a double-sided design.
Today, Oregon is nicknamed the "Beaver State." Oregon State University has adopted this moniker for its athletic teams as well, calling them the "Beavers." As for the state animal of Oregon itself, it has experienced a resurgence of sorts, as the state has facilitated its population growth in the area. The beaver is particularly favored for its dam building at the state's watercourses, which helps to regulate erosion and assists in maintaining natural water flow.
@Mor - Not to take away from Oregon's decision to name the beaver as their state animal, but I think the beaver is one of their more unique animals, just because it is so endangered.
They also have things like black bears and longhorn sheep, which might have been contenders.
But, the beavers do stand for hard work and industry as well as cooperation within a group. And the Oregon state motto is "she flies with her own wings" which I always took to mean that they manage to succeed and thrive with their own resources.
The beaver is a perfect symbol to match that kind of attitude.
@KoiwiGal - Interestingly, I read somewhere a while ago that there was once a group of monks who vowed never to eat any red meat, but to only live off fish.
They included beavers in the same category as fish though, since they seemed to live underwater.
So I guess anyone who really lives around beavers will think of them as aquatic animals (or maybe they just wanted to cheat their diets!)
I didn't realize that the beaver was considered a giant rodent. I think it's a really good, unusual choice for a state animal.
Considering the Oregon state insect is the swallowtail butterfly (which is an obvious choice, since it is quite well known and is also beautiful) I think it speaks well for them that they chose an animal that's endangered, rather than an ostentatious one, like say a bear.
I was recently at a photography exhibit which was showing the winning photos of a worldwide nature photography competition.
One of the categories was underwater photography and I expected them to have the usual corals and whales and fish. There were some really lovely photos. But, two stood out to me as animals I never really think of as aquatic, or as something you can photograph underwater.
One was a polar bear and that was the overall winner of the category.
The other was a beaver. It was the first time I'd ever seen a beaver underwater. It was dragging a branch to a dam. It had webbed feet. It was almost like watching some secret process.
I mean, I knew they swam, of course, since the entrances of their dams are underwater. But I'd never really thought of them as aquatic animals before.
I think with that kind of versatility, they make an excellent choice as the Oregon state animals.