Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.
Beavers and beaver dams are a common feature of the Utah landscape. You’ll see the dams on smaller streams and side channels, constructed of branches, downed trees and mud. The still, deep water of the resulting pond creates ideal conditions for a beaver lodge. Beavers can escape and hide from predators by slipping into the pond and disappearing into the lodge. Beavers also use their ponds to cache their favorite
food—aspen and willow.
Because of their tree cutting and dam making skills, humans tend to have two divergent opinions of beavers: 60-pound nuisance or environmental engineer.
Beavers are considered a nuisance when they gnaw down trees that humans want to keep. Dams can flood roads or stop up irrigation canals. When beaver activity conflicts with human interests, they—the beavers–are likely to be trapped and killed.
However, beaver activity has many positive environmental consequences that we are just beginning to appreciate. Wetlands created by beaver dams help soak up sediments, improving downstream water quality. Because of beaver dams, the winter snowpack isn’t lost in a short spring pulse, This results in a more constant stream flow through the summer –and that’s important as Utah’s climate is predicted to become drier. Finally, beaver dams enhance habitat for many other fish and wildlife species and plants.
According to Dr. Joe Wheaton, a geomorphologist at Utah State University, there’s a lot of untapped potential for employing beaver engineers in stream and floodplain restoration. Say you want to restore a stream by reconnecting it with its floodplain. You need to excavate channels, redirect stream flow, revegetate and nurture the
area for a long period of time. To accomplish this, you often need a
number of highly trained professionals and some large Tonka toys.
Alternatively –under the right conditions– you might transplant a
colony of beavers and let them apply their vigorous work ethic to your
landscape and get quite satisfying results.
Recognizing that nuisance beavers can be rehabilitated into hard
working wetland engineers and stream habitat restorationists, the Utah
Division of Wildlife Resources has rolled out the state’s first beaver
management plan in 2010. This plan encourages live trapping of entire
families of beavers in nuisance areas and moves them to specific sites where their
environmental services can be appreciated and put to use.
Thanks to the USU College of Natural Resources for supporting this Wild about Utah topic.
For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Images: Courtesy US FWS, Photographers: Steve Hillebrand and Hans Stuart, https://images.fws.gov
Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center
Sources & Additional Reading
Collen, P. and R.J. Gibson. 2001. The general ecology of beavers (Castor spp.), as related to their influence on stream ecosystems and riparian habitats, and the subsequent effects on fish – a review. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 10: 439–461, 2001. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227028536_The_general_ecology_of_beavers_Castor_spp_as_related_to_their_influence_on_stream_ecosystems_and_riparian_habitats_and_the_subsequent_effects_on_fish_-_A_review [ Accessed May 1, 2010]
Prettyman, B. 2009. Utah wildlife: Leave it to the beavers. Article in Salt Lake Tribune, October 16, 2009. https://www.sltrib.com/ci_13570110 [ Accessed April 29, 2010]
Smithsonian Castor Canadensis Information Page https://www.mnh.si.edu/mna/image_info.cfm?species_id=32 [ Accessed April 29, 2010]
Big Bend Habitat Restoration Project: A Natural Work of Heart, Open Spaces-A Talk on the Wild Side, US FWS, https://www.fws.gov/news/blog/index.cfm/2016/3/25/Big-Bend-Habitat-Restoration-Project-A-Natural-Work-of-Heart [Accessed March 31, 2016]
Beaver Dams Strengthened by Humans Help Fish Rebound
60-Second Science – July 25, 2016 – By Jason G. Goldman02:29 https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/beaver-dams-strengthened-by-humans-help-fish-rebound/ Also available through the podcast https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/60-second-science/id189330872?mt=2
Restoring Degraded Waters, One Pest at a Time, Utah State Magazine, Utah State University, December 7, 2021, https://utahstatemagazine.usu.edu/environment/restoring-degraded-waters-one-nuisance-at-a-time/