Beaver–Helping Keep Water on Drying Lands

Beaver, Castor canadensis, Courtesy US FWS, Steve Hillebrand, photographer
Castor canadensis
Courtesy US FWS,
Steve Hillebrand, photographer
Beginning as early as the 17th century, beavers have struggled to find safe places to build their homes.

Initially, hunters trapped beaver extensively to keep up with the popular beaver fashions in Europe.

Then as settlers began moving west, they considered the beavers annoying because of their tendency to cause flooding and damage trees – so the trapping continued.

However, today in many parts of the American West, the beaver’s 400-year-old struggle is fading, because of their ability to keep water on dry land in an efficient manner.

While beavers may not be welcome in most city limits, ranchers and wildlife managers are re-introducing them to rural areas where the benefits of their dams far outweigh the inconveniences.

Tanner Ranch Courtesy and Copyright Eric Thacker, Photographer
Grouse Creek Area
Location of the Tanner Ranch
Courtesy and Copyright Eric Thacker, Photographer
One such place is the Della Ranches in west Box Elder County, where the Tanner family has been ranching for six generations. The ranch is located in a remote part of the state and has some of the best intact sagebrush habitat in Utah with strong populations of sage grouse and mule deer.

Most of the precipitation on the ranch, which averages less than 12 inches a year, comes as snow during winter and rain in April and May. By the end of the summer, the majority of the streams have dried up.

Having a sustainable water supply is an ongoing concern for the Tanners. They are searching for ways to keep water on the land throughout the summer.

Jay Tanner explains, “I considered building a reservoir or pond but it would be expensive, require quite a bit of maintenance, and permits. Beaver dams on the other hand are inexpensive, sustainable, and self-maintained.”

Kent Sorenson, habitat biologist from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources described the financial benefit of the beavers, “[When beaver manage the dams] our operation and maintenance costs go to zero — they do all the work. They are 24/7 – 365-day maintenance crews that do not require a Corps of Engineers 404 permit.

Installing a pressure transducer (inside the white pvc pipe) which is used to measure flow. Restoration treatments are assessed through monitoring water flows. Courtesy and Copyright Scott Shahverdian, Photographer
Installing a pressure transducer (inside the white pvc pipe) which is used to measure flow. Restoration treatments are assessed through monitoring water flows.
Courtesy and Copyright Scott Shahverdian, Photographer
When Jay Tanner learned of the potential benefit of beavers, he drove to Utah State University and met with scientists and researchers who had experienced success in restoring beavers in the west.

Eric Thacker, Rangeland Management Extension Specialist at USU said, “A beaver dam provides a buffer or mitigation for drought.”

Once the dams are established, they keep the water on the land. This is beneficial to fish, wildlife and livestock.

Sage-grouse hens like to gather with their chicks in the wet meadows by beaver dams, where they can find plenty of insects and vegetation for their chicks.

After further discussions with USU, the Tanners entered into a multi-year partnership with the Quinney College of Natural Resources and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to reintroduce beaver to their ranch.

Currently, all involved are working to make the streams and surrounding area appropriate for new beaver families. Once the areas are ready and the correct permits are in place, UDWR will capture a beaver pair, keep them in quarantine for the appropriate amount of time then introduce the beavers to a stream on the Tanner Ranch

Reintroducing a beaver couple instead of a single beaver is essential for the success of the project. They are social critters. Beaver will leave the location and go searching for a partner if they are not re-introduced with one.

In an established beaver dam, you will likely find monogamous parents with their babies called “kits”, their yearlings, and extended families.

Joseph Wheaton, Associate Professor in the department of Watershed Sciences and Principal Investigator on the project said, “If [this] project is successful, the implications are huge for instream and riparian restoration throughout the state of Utah as beaver are potentially an extremely cost-effective form of restoration…”

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Photo: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Hillebrand, photographer
Photo: CCourtesy and Copyright Scott Shahverdian, Photographer
Photo: Courtesy and Copyright Eric Thacker, Photographer
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Additional Reading

North American Beaver, Castor canadensis, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Wildlife Notebook Series No. 24,

UTAH BEAVER MANAGEMENT PLAN 2010–2020, Developed with the Beaver Advisory Committee, DWR Publication 09-29, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 2010,

WATS 6860 – Partnering with Beaver in Restoration Design, University Catalog 2017-2018, Utah State University,

Beaver: Restoration liaison between riparian and upland systems. Joe Wheaton, Assistant Professor, Utah …,

WEBINAR: Cheap and Cheerful Stream Riparian Restoration with Beaver. Joe Wheaton …

Beaver Restoration Workshop, Partnering with Beaver in Restoration,

Webinar: Cheap & Cheerful Stream Restoration – With Beaver?

Science Unwrapped Talk by Joe on Beaver

Videos & Movies

Joe Wheaton – Beaver: Restoration liaison between riparian and upland systems

Dr. Joseph Michael Wheaton, Watershed Sciences, Associate Professor,
Utah Water Watch, Beaver Monitoring App,

Beaver Dam Mapping App Now Available for Citizen Scientists,

Zion National Park Human-Ringtail Interactions

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), Photo Courtesy US FWS, San Andres NWR
Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus)
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Within Zion national park, there is a small, little known creature named the ringtail. It is related to the raccoon and is completely nocturnal. With big eyes, bigger ears, and a black and white striped tail, they seem like a fairy tale critter. However, they are very real, albeit elusive and extremely smart. They are about the size of a house cat and spend their time hunting for mice, lizards, bird eggs, and insects while also foraging for berries and seeds. They are quite adaptable mammals, changing their diet to suit their surroundings. They can be found throughout the southwest and western coastal states from Oregon to Texas, in all sorts of habitats. However, they are rarely seen, so their presence in the desert of southern Utah usually goes unnoticed. Many residents of southern Utah don’t even know that ringtails exist, let alone live in their back yard.

A relatively large population of ringtails exist in Zion National Park, one of the most heavily traveled national parks in the US. Last year, alone, over 3.6 million people visited the park. Those tourists and visitors often eat packaged and pre-cooked foods while in the park, disposing of their trash in proper receptacles or, rather irresponsibly, along trails and campgrounds. This creates ample opportunities for ringtails to gain access to human food, such as trashcans, and may encourage them to forage for food around campsites and visitor lodging. This behavior is a problem for the guests and employees of Zion National Park, but it is also extremely problematic for the ringtails in this area.

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), Photo Courtesy US BLM
Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus)
Photo Courtesy US BLM
© Lee Dittmann, Photographer
The consumption of human foods and trash items are creating a significant shift in the composition of the diets of ringtails in this park. Researchers at Utah State University collected scats from ringtails in the park to analyze what they were eating. While the scats collected far from human buildings and activity showed the diet that is expected for wild ringtails in this area (e.g. insects, plant material, and some small rodent remains), the scats collected around and inside human buildings told a much more disconcerting story. There was trash and non-digestible food items present in over a third of the scats collected. These items perhaps could be due to the wrappings of human food, such as napkins, or they could be a byproduct of trying to gain access to the food, such as eating foil candy bar wrappers. A lot of human food is accessed through improperly sealed trash containers, poor food storage in campsites and cabins, and potentially hand feeding, all of which put the ringtails at risk for dietary problems, behavioral problems, and possibly death.

The ringtails are also coming towards buildings in the communities around Zion National Park, such as Springdale and Rockville, to seek easy shelter in the colder months, something that is not necessary for their survival. Properly sealing homes, particularly attics, in the areas where ringtails occur will prevent the ringtails from entering the living spaces of humans, and gaining access to food items dangerous to them. It will also prevent the homeowner from dealing with the aftermath of having a ringtail take up residence in an attic or crawlspace. Any hole larger than 2″ in diameter is enough to allow an adult male ringtail to enter. Surveying a house’s foundations and siding each fall to identify any such holes, and fill them in, can go a long way toward preventing ringtails from entering a home; helping ringtails practice healthy, wild behavior.

Ringtails are a certainly a wildlife sighting to remember, but make sure you only see them on their terms. Always properly store, prepare, and dispose of food items when in areas with wildlife. It protects you and it protects them, making sure your experience in natural areas remains a positive one.

Images:   Courtesy US FWS
               Courtesy US BLM & Copyright © Lee Dittmann, Photographer
Text:        Adrian Roadman, Nicki Frey and Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Read by:  Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Utah State University College of Natural Resources
Credits:    Adrian Roadman and Nicki Frey

Additional Reading:

Orphaned Cub Rehabilitation

Orphaned Cub: Bear Cubs in an Enclosure One of the facility’s natural climbing structures, and some of the conspecific interactions that took place in the pens.
Bear Cubs in an Enclosure One of the facility’s natural climbing structures, and some of the conspecific interactions that took place in the pens.
New research reveals that orphaned cubs will likely avoid humans if properly rehabilitated.

Sadly each year, there are orphaned bear cubs in Utah. Some lose their mothers to forest fires, while others are orphaned by vehicle-bear collisions or other human-related conflicts.

If the orphaned cubs are too young to survive on their own and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) finds them before they perish they can be rehabilitated and have a good chance of surviving.

With the help of USU’s Dr. Julie Young a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist and associate professor in the Quinney College of Natural Resources, who has expertise in managing carnivores in captivity, DWR was able to help build appropriate enclosures for the rehabilitation of the cubs.

Young helped built these temporary homes at the USDA National Wildlife Research Center’s Predator Research Facility in Millville, Utah.

To ensure the enclosures met the basic needs of cubs the researchers contacted approximately a dozen rehab facilities around the US and Canada to find out “HOW” to rehab bears.
Interestingly, there were large differences in responses.

According to Young, “A few consistent traits did emerge. Bears get easily bored, they like to play and investigate everything. So, we made sure the pens had lots of enrichment items and activities and everything was extremely sturdy since bears are very strong even as babies!

“Because they were being released back into the wild, we wanted to do as much as we could to give them natural surroundings – like logs, twigs, etc.

We scattered nuts and berries around so the cubs could learn to forage.”
One fun thing about bears – is they love water! The cubs spent a lot of time in their huge tubs or playing in the water fountain meant for drinking.

Dr. Young’s graduate student, Patrick Myers, recently completed a study of the orphaned cub rehabilitation which contributed to DWR’s Bear Management Plan to “maintain a healthy bear population…while considering human safety.”
Myers began his work in the summer of 2014 when DWR brought six orphaned cubs to the Millville bear rehabilitation site.
Throughout the rehabilitation, there was very little human contact to ensure the bears did not become familiar with humans. This was tough since cubs are cute and people wanted to see them. However, they remained firm and did not allow visiting hours. They removed as many human sights, sounds and odors as possible by keeping noise to a minimum, and since bears have extremely good noses they eliminated as many human smells as possible no perfumes or scented lotions were allowed.

At feeding time they fed the cubs from behind a blind, or put them in one pen while they cleaned and left food in the other. The researchers never went in the same pen as the cubs.

Loading two immobilized and recently collared cubs into their enclosures for transport to their release locations.
Loading two immobilized and recently collared cubs into their enclosures for transport to their release locations.
Myer’s research was unique. In addition to the regular food and development regiments, the cubs went through numerous behavioral tests to determine if they were bold, shy or somewhere in between when introduced to novel stimulus.

Consistent test results were the key in determining what type of animal personalities the cubs had.
One test included placing the cubs in a new enclosure with the same layout as their previous one. The shy cubs responded by hugging the walls and cautiously moving around while the bold cubs began exploring immediately with little signs of fear.

Once Myers classified the bears, and the cubs were old enough, the research team released the young bears to remote locations throughout Utah.

Patrick Myers has immobilized and extracted one of the bears from her den in early spring of 2016 to assess her health and the fit of her collar; this was in the Lake Canyon area, southwest of Duchesne. myers.patrick.den.check.250x188
Patrick Myers has immobilized and extracted one of the bears from her den in early spring of 2016 to assess her health and the fit of her collar; this was in the Lake Canyon area, southwest of Duchesne.
Myers monitored the bears throughout 2015 until they emerged from their dens in the spring of 2016.
“The bears were fitted with expandable GPS collars so they would grow when the cubs did and so Myers could watch their movement from a computer. Myers went to check out dens once they left them, to be sure their habitat choices were appropriate based on bear biology.

Young explains, “We went with UDWR and checked on the two females their second denning season in the wild –and they looked great!”

Myers and Young were pleased to see that even though the cubs had been in close proximity to the smell of humans for many months; neither the bold nor the shy bears sought humans once they released them. They all had healthy responses to their natural habitat and behaved much like young bears not orphaned. They searched for dens almost immediately, and remained in the remote locations.

Although this is a small study, the initial results show that orphaned cubs, whether shy or bold, will likely avoid humans and retain their natural instincts if property rehabilitated.

This may be a useful management practice for restoring bears where populations are dwindling and habitat is ideal.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Photo: Courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

USDA APHIS National Wildlife Research Center,

Bear denning in the south Book Cliffs, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,

“Can you help me? There’s a bear on my boat.”, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,

My Cougar Encounter

cougar encounter
Photographer: Larry Moats
Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
There are those moments in one’s life when time stops and moments become hours. So it was while trail running in the Wellsville mountains of N. Utah

Deep in the forest shadows materialized a form- a coyote! Well, that was the initial thinking. I stopped for closer inspection and began talking in a soft, welcoming tone so as not to frighten away my favorite song dog.
The animal form persisted- no frenzied running up the steep slope just beyond. Interesting.
I walked toward the figure to find the fright distance and for closer encounter. Eight steps in crunchy leaves and the animal began to move. Wow! A long tail emerges. The canine face transforms to feline. MOUNTAIN LION!!!

After 50+ years of trapesing through wild, rugged country in the western U.S., dream becomes reality- that of seeing this shadow being in real form.

Mesmerized, I continue a cautious approach. The cat holds its ground. Our distance closes to 50 yards when it begins a leisurely retreat. I continue singing praises to its magnificence. At one point I find myself emitting “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty” to which fortunately it doesn’t respond.

Mountain Lion
Courtesy US FWS
A large tom with striking colors- its lithe, fluid, soundless movement- poetry in motion, a marvel of artistic expression. It stops frequently, looking back to lock eyes with wonderment- perhaps its first close encounter with this strange being.

Eventually it gains the steep slope and picks its way upward. Occasional sunburst accents the rich tawny gold and well-muscled body. Eyes strain to follow its progress, fading into the dream it once was.

Cougars are solitary animals, making them a rare sight for humans. They usually hunt alone and at night, ambushing their prey from behind. Typically, cougars kill their prey with a bite to the lower neck. After making a kill, a cougar often will take the carcass to the base of a tree and cover it with dirt, leaves or snow, saving it to eat later.

Their main prey is deer, so cougars are often found close by. They can live up to 12 years in the wild but have lived up to 25 years in captivity.

Only 20 people in North America have been killed by cougars during the past 125 years, including six in California and 8 in Canada. No deaths have ever been reported in Utah. It is far less likely than dying from snake bites, avalanches, lightning strikes, hypothermia, or bee stings, or just about any other means. Children are particularly vulnerable when alone.

If approached by one, intimidation by intense eye contact, loud shouting, and any other actions to appear larger and more menacing is warranted.

This is Jack Greene writing and reading for WAU


Images: Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Mountain Lion, Wildlife Notebook, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,

Starving Cougar Attacks Vernal Man, Hans Moran, Deseret News Nov. 12, 1997,

Mountain Lion, National Geographic,