"Chomps" the beaver asks passers-by to consider their personal climate action pledges. [Rachel Fixsen / Moab Sun News]

A 5-foot, paper maché beaver named Chomps keeps watch outside the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, reminding passers-by of the importance of the keystone species and offering suggestions of small actions individuals can take to reduce their environmental impacts.

The sculpture was the centerpiece of an event that was part of Utah Climate Week, which took place during the last week in September. About 30 participants, including adults and children, painted rocks with “personal climate action pledges,” like eating less meat or commuting by bike more often. The rocks are arranged like a river bed that Chomps calls home.

“We wanted to put together an art project that was also focused on climate, that would allow us to talk about the extreme temperature change and what we can do locally in light of that,” said Adi Leigh Brown, one of the organizers of the event. At the same time, she said, “We wanted to find something that would catch people’s eye and provide a little bit of humor and delight.”

Brown has worked in the conservation field for many years, and has lived in Moab for about a year. She emphasized the importance of the beaver as a keystone species. Such species are critical to the support of ecosystems. Beavers create wetland habitats that support many other kinds of plants and animals; their dams also help manage water flow and mitigate flooding. Brown pointed to recent research which showed that areas dammed by beaver were protected from wildfires in California. Beavers are found in environments around Moab, including Mill Creek Canyon.

“When we see [beaver] out in the canyons, we want to protect them, not destroy their dams. They’re rehydrating the area,” said Brown of the species.

Brown created the sculpture in her front yard using mostly materials reclaimed from construction sites. She had volunteers come and help at times; she also enjoyed the interest and appreciation of passers-by as she worked on the project. The core of the sculpture is fiberboard wired together and wrapped in chicken-wire. Chomps’ outer layer is made of reclaimed cardboard dipped in a wood glue paste, which helps keep the beaver’s coat weather-resistant.

During the Oct. 1 Climate Week event, participants discussed what people in Moab can do to help address the effects of climate change. Attendees held a naming contest for the beaver sculpture, which produced the name Chomps. Brown said she and the other organizers hope to hold similar events throughout the year and eventually “build out a menagerie of keystone animals,” Brown said.

“The next one is probably a prairie dog,” she said. “They’re also a keystone species.” The next event will likely be held in December. Stay tuned to the Moab Arts and Recreation Center and Moab Sustainability webpages to find out about the next climate action sculpture.