Wildlife Escape and Passage

Right of Way Escape Ramp Near Santaquin, UT Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Right of Way Escape Ramp
Near Santaquin, UT
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Safety Side, Corner Escape Ramp Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Safety Side, Corner Escape Ramp
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

One-way, Metal Gate Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer One-way, Metal Gate
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Climbing Side, Corner Escape Ramp Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Climbing Side, Corner Escape Ramp
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Underpass and Jump Ramp Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Underpass and Jump Ramp
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Rural Road Leading to Santaquin Wildlife Management Area Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Rural Road Leading to Santaquin
Wildlife Management Area
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Deer and other wildlife have been migrating across our state much longer than humans. When people drove horse-drawn wagons and slower vehicles, wildlife could easily pass without a problem. However, with the introduction of fenced highways and their increased speed and traffic, problems quickly arose. In this case, the problem is mostly with mule deer, because they comprise 90% of the animals migrating in Utah. Robert Frost wrote that “Good fences make good neighbors.” But neighbors need to cooperate to maintain a fence, and even with fences in place, what if the neighbors are animals? The problem is how to keep migrating deer from jumping fences and causing accidents.

Animal/vehicle encounters cause over 5,000 animal deaths in Utah each year. Beyond the loss of life, it is also an economic problem, not only for wildlife management but also for vehicle owners. Some estimate the deer are worth more than $2,500 each. Joshua Coursey wrote in the Deseret News, that the “estimated cost of collisions with mule deer in Utah reached close to $50 million in 2021.” That’s why the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) have worked for decades to reduce wildlife/vehicle encounters. As noted, fencing alone does not work; consequently, highway managers have had to find ways to get trapped deer across and away from fenced roads.

When USU researchers studied escape mechanisms in Sardine canyon, they found earthen escape mounds were superior to one-way, metal gates. Climbing a hill is more natural to deer than pushing through a metal gate. These mounds enable a one-way jump to safety. However, escape alone does not solve the driving force of migration.

A more effective way to handle migrating animals is to guide them above or below the road. UDOT explains: “Studies have shown there is a 90% reduction in wildlife/vehicle collisions when there is a crossing structure and fence in the area.” Since 1975, when UDOT built its first wildlife overpass near Beaver, Utah, deer, moose and elk, along with bear and mountain lions have begun to use wildlife underpasses and overpasses. More recently, a larger overpass was built in Parley’s Canyon on I-80. Videos show a variety of animals who successfully traverse that overpass.

But escape ramps and overpasses aren’t the only tools available. Passage is also possible using creek beds or culverts crossing under roads. Tall fences are effective in guiding animals toward structures and preventing roadway access. Then, to encourage faster adoption, contractors have found they can walk a herd of cattle through the structure, overpowering human scents

When on I-15, I-80, I-70, or in our canyons, watch for overpasses, underpasses, one-way gates and exit ramps. They demonstrate a few ways the DWR and UDOT are working together to preserve human and animal lives.

This is Lyle Bingham, and I’m Wild About Utah and our 15 years on Utah Public Radio.

Credits:
Videos: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources https://wildlife.utah.gov
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Lyle Bingham’ Wild About Utah Postings

USU-Connected Researchers Mitigating Wildlife Migration Issues:
John Bissonette, Patricia Cramer and Mary Hammer

Bissonette, J. A. and M. Hammer. 2000. Effectiveness or earthen return ramps in reducing big game highway mortality in Utah. UTCFWRU Report Series 2000 (1): 1-29.https://escholarship.org/content/qt2f1080nm/qt2f1080nm.pdf

Buford, Daniel, Cramer, Patricia, and Simpson, Nova, Integrating Wildlife Connectivity and Safety Concerns into Transportation Planning Processes, Federal Highway Administration, US Department of Transportation, Winter 2023, https://highways.dot.gov/public-roads/winter-2023/04

Wildlife Connectivity Institute, https://www.wildlifeconnectivity.org/

“A dynamic part of a National Cooperative Highway Research Program sponsored research project titled; ‘Evaluation of the Use and Effectiveness of Wildlife Crossings.'”, https://www.wildlifeandroads.org/

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, USU Ecologist [Patricia Cramer] Honored for Wildlife Highway Crossing Research, Utah State Today, Utah State University, April 16, 2015, https://www.usu.edu/today/story/usu-ecologist-honored-for-wildlife-highway-crossing-research

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, USU Ecologist Leading Efforts to Stop Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions, Utah State Today, Utah State University, September 2, 2010, https://www.usu.edu/today/story/usu-ecologist-leading-efforts-to-stop-wildlife-vehicle-collisions


DWR: “It’s the video seen around the world! This compilation of footage shows various animals using the wildlife crossing constructed in 2018 over Interstate 80 near Parleys Summit. What’s especially notable with this crossing is how many animals are already using it; usually it takes several years for wildlife crossings to become widely used.

This video went viral near the end of 2020, and was celebrated as great progress in the problem of wildlife-vehicle collisions. Special thanks to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Transportation and Summit County for the footage.” https://wildlifemigration.utah.gov/stories/parleys-summit-wildlife-crossing/


UDOT: Baker Canyon Wildlife Crossing Installation


DWR: “Utah’s highways are vital to the health of the state. They can present a significant barrier for wildlife migration. In order to prevent automobile/wildlife collisions and to increase habitat availability for animals, Wildlife biologists and the Utah Department of Transportation have designed and installed several overpasses and underpasses to allow wild animals to safely cross the highway.”

Green, Ashley, Highway wildlife crossings, Connections between habitats are important for wildlife. Wildlife Blog, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/675-highway-wildlife-crossings.html

Kenley Fry, Rachel, Safe passage: Sardine Canyon wildlife crossings improved, The Herald Journal, October 21, 2012 Updated May 4, 2015 https://www.hjnews.com/allaccess/safe-passage-sardine-canyon-wildlife-crossings-improved/article_2d38f7f4-1b1d-11e2-a588-0019bb2963f4.html

Mapping Migration Corridors, Wildlife Migration, Utah Wildlife Migration Initiative, Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlifemigration.utah.gov/land-animals/corridors/

Celebrating Rodent Engineers

Welcoming Rodent Engineers: Spawn Creek Beaver Dam and Pond Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Spawn Creek Beaver Dam and Pond
Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer

North American beaver (Castor canadensis) Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer, Photographer North American beaver
(Castor canadensis)
Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer, Photographer

Spawn Creek Beaver Dams Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton Spawn Creek Beaver Dams
Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer

Installing Beaver Dam Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest, Courtesy USDA Forest Service Installing Beaver Dam Analogues
Post Fire Rehabilitation
Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest,
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Completed Beaver Dam  Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest, Courtesy USDA Forest Service Completed Beaver Dam Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest,
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Finding a beaver dam gives me a sense of discovery and connects me to the past. I fondly remember my parents pointing out dams when we drove up Logan canyon. Instinctively, we’d scan, hoping to see the animals that built and maintained those structures. When we talked about beaver dams, the conversation often turned to trappers who would rendezvous and re-supply in the Bear Lake and Cache valleys. We lived where history had happened, and I was eager to know more.

Years later, inspired by a history class, I read Dale Morgan’s Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West. Morgan followed the travels of Smith and his fellow trappers who answered William Ashley’s 1822 ad in the Missouri Gazette requesting “ONE HUNDRED MEN, to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years….”

Ashley’s troop competed with the Hudson’s Bay Company, the American Fur Company and several native indigenous tribes, all trapping beaver. The story sounds familiar: beaver pelts, and later bird feathers, were used to create hats, and the movement to harvest them led to a significant decline in numbers. For the birds, this decline led to building refuges and other conservation efforts. But the plight of the beaver continued downhill as exploration and discovery encouraged an influx of settlers. For the next century, the remaining beaver were regarded by those settlers as invasive land-grabbers, in competition with efforts to direct water, mine and irrigate.

However, today beavers are gaining more respect as we better understand the benefits of their skills in supporting wildlife and wetland conservation. Researchers at Utah State University, including Joe Wheaton and Nick Bouwes of the Department of Watershed Sciences, are studying habitat improvement after beaver introduction as a cost-effective way to combat drought and fire.

They have repeatedly demonstrated, over the past few years, that beaver families can be introduced and thrive behind fabricated beaver dam analogues(BDAs). After release into the resulting ponds, the beavers take over maintenance and produce their own dams. Over time, these dams and their rodent engineers improve stream flows, raise water tables, and cool water temperatures.

In essence, active beaver dams create Mesic habitats where the land maintains a well-balanced supply of moisture throughout the growing season. These dams slow spring run-off as they retain water in ponds and the surrounding soil, thereby, securing water for fish, trees, birds and wildlife. The best part is that the beavers do the maintenance.

When wildfires occur, beaver oases preserve wildlife and habitat. However, if beaver and their habitats don’t exist in an area before a fire, they can still play a role. By retaining water with beaver dam analogs, we can create wetlands conducive to beaver habitat. In Joe Wheaton’s words, “We can’t dump beaver into a watershed that has burnt to the ground and expect them to do the restoration of degraded streams on their own…. What we can do post-fire is accelerate recovery with low-tech structures that make it easier to more quickly get beaver into an area and accelerate recovery. We’d like to help them do that.” (Utah State Magazine, Winter 2019, p.12)

To learn more about how birds, beaver and water are key to the understanding and improvement of our environment, and to find ways to get involved, check out this story on this wildaboututah.org.

I’m Lyle Bingham for Bridgerland Audubon, and I’m Wild About Utah

Credits:
Photos: Beaver Dam, Courtesy & Copyright © Bethany Neilson, Photographer https://uwrl.usu.edu/people/faculty/neilson-bethany
Spawn Creek Beaver Dams Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton
Installing & Completed Beaver Dam Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest, Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Lyle Bingham’ Wild About Utah Postings

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, April 29, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/beavers-the-original-army-corps-of-engineers/

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver–Helping Keep Water on Drying Lands, April 17, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/the-beaver-helping-keep-water-on-drying-lands/

Leavitt, Shauna, Sixty In-stream Habitat Structures in Four Days: Demonstrating Creek Restoration Techniques, December 18, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/sixty-instream-habitat-structures-in-four-days-demonstrating-creek-restoration-techniques/

Hellstern, Ron, Leave it to Beaver, July 30, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/leave-it-to-beaver/

Leavitt, Shauna, Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah, September 3, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/proposed-beaver-holding-facility-in-millville-utah/

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers, July 6, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-in-utahs-desert-rivers/

Heers, Mary, Beaver Tail Slap, October 12, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-tail-slap/
(re-aired in late December 2021)

Other Favorites:

Randall, Brianna, Nature’s Engineers: How Beavers Boost Streamflows and Restore Habitat, https://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/natures-engineers-how-beavers-boost-streamflows-and-restore-habitat/
Randall, Brianna, How Beavers Boost Stream Flows, National Wildlife Federation, January 8, 2020, https://blog.nwf.org/2020/01/how-beavers-boost-stream-flows/

Low-Tech Process Based Restoration of Riverscapes Design Manual, https://lowtechpbr.restoration.usu.edu/manual/

New Manual for Low-Tech Riparian Restoration, https://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/new-manual-for-low-tech-riparian-restoration/

Randall, Brianna, Beavers, Water, and Fire—A New Formula for Success, Low-tech stream restoration works wonders for people and wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, October 30, 2018, https://blog.nwf.org/2018/10/beavers-water-and-fire-a-new-formula-for-success/

Nicholas Weber ,Nicolaas Bouwes,Michael M. Pollock,Carol Volk,Joseph M. Wheaton,Gus Wathen,Jacob Wirtz,Chris E. Jordan, Alteration of stream temperature by natural and artificial beaver dams, May 17, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176313 OR https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0176313

Prettyman, Brett, Dolling (SLTRIB), Justin(UT DWR), Beavers in Utah, Creators of Habitat, The Salt Lake Tribune & Utah DWR, Oct 15, 2009 •

Utah’s population of beaver has recovered since the days when they were trapped by mountain men, but some people wonder if moving beaver to traditional habitats may help deal with drought.

Utah Beaver Management Plan, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/furbearer/beaver_plan_2010-2020.pdf

Birds, Beaver and Water in a Changing Climate, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/birds-beaver-and-water-in-a-changing-climate/


Spider Mountain

Spider Mountain: Spiders on Dish Western Spotted Orbweaver Neoscona oaxacensis Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Spiders on Dish
Western Spotted Orbweaver
Neoscona oaxacensis
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Spiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna West (Spider) Mountain, Utah Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, PhotographerSpiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Spiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna With Microwave Dish for Other Building Occupants West (Spider) Mountain, Utah Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, PhotographerSpiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna With Microwave Dish for Other Building Occupants
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Spiders on Dish for Other Building Occupants. Note Red Former AT&T (Now 'American Tower') Structure Above. West (Spider) Mountain, Utah Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, PhotographerSpiders on Dish for Other Building Occupants
Note Red Former AT&T (Now ‘American Tower’) Structure Above.
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer


Recently, I accompanied Friend Weller, chief radio engineer for Utah Public Radio, on a visit to what local radio engineers affectionately call Spider Mountain. We sought to determine why the Utah County translator would intermittently go off air for minutes to hours. Friend speculated that wasps or spiders were to blame. He explained that this translator receives the signal from Logan via satellite and rebroadcasts it for lower Utah County on 88.7 MHz. It is one of more than 30 translators that re-transmit UPR where mountains block the original signal.

We drove up a gravel road to the top of the dry, desert mountain known locally as West Mountain. This cheatgrass-covered mountain rises nineteen hundred feet from the waters on the south end of Utah Lake. At the base, there are fruit orchards, but climbing higher, we saw few plants rising above the cheatgrass. Near the top, more than 12 structures support antennas that transmit and relay signals across portions of Utah and Juab counties.

As we slowly climbed the gravel road in the UPR pickup, large bodies began to appear, moving on silk threads attached, like guy wires, to anything with height. Mobile spiders guarded each thread. When we passed, they took what appeared to be offensive positions. These spiders’ delicate legs easily span two inches. A unique black and white pattern of diamonds and dots on their back identifies them as western spotted orb weavers. The larger-bodied, grey spiders are females with legs attached to a three-quarter-inch body. The narrower-bodied males measure half an inch. When they move, flashes of red show on the undersides of their legs. These same spiders live along the shores of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake.

The exterior of the equipment building was covered with spiders, as were the transmitting antennas above and the large receiving satellite dish nearby. We could see the problem. Spiders were blocking the signal to the satellite dish feed horn. Using a broom, we gently relocated them. Many took quick exits, dropping on threads of silk from the horn to the dish below, then running to the edge and rappelling to the ground. Others took more defensive or combative positions, only to be invited off with the broom or a gloved hand. After the eviction, we sprayed around the horn and the dish supports.

On previous trips, we had often wondered what these spiders eat. This time we found small flying insects, akin to those found along the shores of Utah Lake. They are likely carried up the mountain on wind currents. Up-hill winds develop every day as the sun warms the surface of the mountain. This time of year, the spiders don’t lack nourishment.

And how did the spiders get up there? Their progenitors were also likely carried uphill on silk parachutes. Once there, the spiders found the tallest location, strung their lines, and thrived on other unfortunates delivered by the same winds. You see, spiders, like predatory birds, are helpful pest control. For a spider, hanging high above the ground on a mountain top is a great place to be. There, the spiders can catch anything that blows or flies by. No wonder they grow so large and multiply so profusely on top of Spider Mountain.

Visit Wildaboututah.org for images of the spiders hanging from the trees, guy wires, antenna masts and satellite dish. We also have links to common spiders found in Utah.

This is Lyle Bingham, and I’m Wild About Utah, Utah Public Radio and Utah’s spiders.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Lyle Bingham’s Wild About Utah Postings

Mitton, Jeff, Spiders disperse on strands of silk | Colorado Arts & Sciences Magazine Archive | University of Colorado Boulder
https://www.colorado.edu/asmagazine-archive/node/585

Narimanov, Nijat; Bonte, Dries; Mason, Paul; Mestre, Laia; Entling, Martin H.; Disentangling the roles of electric fields and wind in spider dispersal experiments
https://bioone.org/journals/the-journal-of-arachnology/volume-49/issue-3/JoA-S-20-063/Disentangling-the-roles-of-electric-fields-and-wind-in-spider/10.1636/JoA-S-20-063.full

Simonneaua, Manon; Courtiala, Cyril; Pétillon, Julien; Phenological and meteorological determinants of spider ballooning in an agricultural landscape – ScienceDirect
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1631069116300919

Davis, Nicky, Neoscona Tree, Lincoln Beach, Utah Lake, Utah, WildUtah.us, August 23, 2018, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_s_neoscona_tree.html

Davis, Nicky, Western Spotted Orbweaver a.k.a. Zig-Zag Spider-Neoscona oaxacensis Female, WildUtah.us, August 20, 2018, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_s_neoscona_oaxacensis_fe_west_utah_lake_20aug2018.html

Davis, Nicky, Western Spotted Orbweaver a.k.a. Zig-Zag Spider-Neoscona oaxacensis Male, WildUtah.us, August 20, 2018, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_s_neoscona_oaxacensis_m_west_utah_lake_20aug2018.html

Davis, Nicky, Spider at Inlet Park, Jordan River Trail, Saratoga, Utah County – Neoscona oaxacensis, Bugguide, Iowa State University, September 17, 2017, https://bugguide.net/node/view/1446087

Eaton, Eric R, Spider Sunday: Western Spotted Orbweaver, Bug Eric, February 12, 2012, https://bugeric.blogspot.com/2012/02/spider-sunday-western-spotted-orbweaver.html


These spiders were blocking the UPR satellite signal received by the Utah County transponder broadcasting at 88.7 MHz. The spiders were identified as Western Orb Weavers, Neoscona oaxacensis, that are also found along the shores of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake.
Courtesy and Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer


More than one type of spider lives on Spider Mountain. The last time we visited Spider Mountain, we hadn’t traveled far before Friend Weller stopped the truck. A Utah tarantula was walking across the road. Yes, did I tell you the spiders on Spider Mountain are big? This guy easily covered a small dinner plate without extending its legs.
We found out that tarantulas are nocturnal and rarely seen except in August and September, when the males are searching for mates. In Utah, we found most tarantulas are identified as Aphonopelma iodius, because they have a triangular dark patch near their eye turrets. We understand our tarantulas are not to be confused with a similar brown-bodied, black-legged species, Aphonopelma chalcodes, the western desert tarantula that are found in Mexico, Arizona, and southern Utah.
Courtesy and Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Visit ‘Spider Mountain’ on https://wildaboututah.org/

Spiders in Utah, SpiderID.com, https://spiderid.com/locations/united-states/utah/



Welcoming Rodent Engineers

Welcoming Rodent Engineers: Spawn Creek Beaver Dam and Pond Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Spawn Creek Beaver Dam and Pond
Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Finding a beaver dam gives me a sense of discovery and connects me to the past. I fondly remember my parents pointing out dams when we drove up Logan canyon. Instinctively, we’d scan, hoping to see the animals that built and maintained those structures. When we talked about beaver dams, the conversation often turned to trappers who would rendezvous and re-supply in the Bear Lake and Cache valleys. We lived where history had happened, and I was eager to know more.

Years later, inspired by a history class, I read Dale Morgan’s Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West. Morgan followed the travels of Smith and his fellow trappers who answered William Ashley’s 1822 ad in the Missouri Gazette requesting “ONE HUNDRED MEN, to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years….”

North American beaver (Castor canadensis) Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer, Photographer
North American beaver
(Castor canadensis)
Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer, Photographer
Ashley’s troop competed with the Hudson’s Bay Company, the American Fur Company and several native indigenous tribes, all trapping beaver. The story sounds familiar: beaver pelts, and later bird feathers, were used to create hats, and the movement to harvest them led to a significant decline in numbers. For the birds, this decline led to building refuges and other conservation efforts. But the plight of the beaver continued downhill as exploration and discovery encouraged an influx of settlers. For the next century, the remaining beaver were regarded by those settlers as invasive land-grabbers, in competition with efforts to direct water, mine and irrigate.

However, today beavers are gaining more respect as we better understand the benefits of their skills in supporting wildlife and wetland conservation. Researchers at Utah State University, including Joe Wheaton and Nick Bouwes of the Department of Watershed Sciences, are studying habitat improvement after beaver introduction as a cost-effective way to combat drought and fire.

Spawn Creek Beaver Dams Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton
Spawn Creek Beaver Dams
Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer
They have repeatedly demonstrated, over the past few years, that beaver families can be introduced and thrive behind fabricated beaver dam analogues(BDAs). After release into the resulting ponds, the beavers take over maintenance and produce their own dams. Over time, these dams and their rodent engineers improve stream flows, raise water tables, and cool water temperatures.

In essence, active beaver dams create Mesic habitats where the land maintains a well-balanced supply of moisture throughout the growing season. These dams slow spring run-off as they retain water in ponds and the surrounding soil, thereby, securing water for fish, trees, birds and wildlife. The best part is that the beavers do the maintenance.

Installing Beaver Dam Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest, Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Installing Beaver Dam Analogues
Post Fire Rehabilitation
Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest,
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Completed Beaver Dam  Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest, Courtesy USDA Forest Service Completed Beaver Dam Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest,
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

When wildfires occur, beaver oases preserve wildlife and habitat. However, if beaver and their habitats don’t exist in an area before a fire, they can still play a role. By retaining water with beaver dam analogs, we can create wetlands conducive to beaver habitat. In Joe Wheaton’s words, “We can’t dump beaver into a watershed that has burnt to the ground and expect them to do the restoration of degraded streams on their own…. What we can do post-fire is accelerate recovery with low-tech structures that make it easier to more quickly get beaver into an area and accelerate recovery. We’d like to help them do that.” (Utah State Magazine, Winter 2019, p.12)

To learn more about how birds, beaver and water are key to the understanding and improvement of our environment, and to find ways to get involved, check out this story on this wildaboututah.org.

I’m Lyle Bingham for Bridgerland Audubon, and I’m Wild About Utah

Credits:
Photos: Beaver Dam, Courtesy & Copyright © Bethany Neilson, Photographer https://uwrl.usu.edu/people/faculty/neilson-bethany
Spawn Creek Beaver Dams Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton
Installing & Completed Beaver Dam Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest, Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Lyle Bingham’ Wild About Utah Postings

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, April 29, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/beavers-the-original-army-corps-of-engineers/

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver–Helping Keep Water on Drying Lands, April 17, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/the-beaver-helping-keep-water-on-drying-lands/

Leavitt, Shauna, Sixty In-stream Habitat Structures in Four Days: Demonstrating Creek Restoration Techniques, December 18, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/sixty-instream-habitat-structures-in-four-days-demonstrating-creek-restoration-techniques/

Hellstern, Ron, Leave it to Beaver, July 30, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/leave-it-to-beaver/

Leavitt, Shauna, Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah, September 3, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/proposed-beaver-holding-facility-in-millville-utah/

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers, July 6, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-in-utahs-desert-rivers/

Heers, Mary, Beaver Tail Slap, October 12, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-tail-slap/
(re-aired in late December 2021)

Other Favorites:

Randall, Brianna, Nature’s Engineers: How Beavers Boost Streamflows and Restore Habitat, https://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/natures-engineers-how-beavers-boost-streamflows-and-restore-habitat/
Randall, Brianna, How Beavers Boost Stream Flows, National Wildlife Federation, January 8, 2020, https://blog.nwf.org/2020/01/how-beavers-boost-stream-flows/

Low-Tech Process Based Restoration of Riverscapes Design Manual, https://lowtechpbr.restoration.usu.edu/manual/

New Manual for Low-Tech Riparian Restoration, https://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/new-manual-for-low-tech-riparian-restoration/

Randall, Brianna, Beavers, Water, and Fire—A New Formula for Success, Low-tech stream restoration works wonders for people and wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, October 30, 2018, https://blog.nwf.org/2018/10/beavers-water-and-fire-a-new-formula-for-success/

Nicholas Weber ,Nicolaas Bouwes,Michael M. Pollock,Carol Volk,Joseph M. Wheaton,Gus Wathen,Jacob Wirtz,Chris E. Jordan, Alteration of stream temperature by natural and artificial beaver dams, May 17, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176313 OR https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0176313

Prettyman, Brett, Dolling (SLTRIB), Justin(UT DWR), Beavers in Utah, Creators of Habitat, The Salt Lake Tribune & Utah DWR, Oct 15, 2009 •

Utah’s population of beaver has recovered since the days when they were trapped by mountain men, but some people wonder if moving beaver to traditional habitats may help deal with drought.

Utah Beaver Management Plan, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/furbearer/beaver_plan_2010-2020.pdf

Birds, Beaver and Water in a Changing Climate, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/birds-beaver-and-water-in-a-changing-climate/