Leave it to Beaver

Leave it to Beaver: Beaver Dam and Pond Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Beaver Dam and Pond
Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
A few years ago the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conducted a wonderful workshop for educators to provide them with materials to take to their classes to help students understand the many issues dealing with wildlife.

As an introductory activity, the Ranger asked each of us to name the animal we thought that had the greatest influence or impact on ecosystems. People mentioned Deer, Cougars, Moose, Wolves and so on until it was my turn. Without hesitation I said “Beavers”. One of the teachers laughed at me and mocked my answer trying to embarrass me. So I asked the Ranger to repeat the question: Which animal did we think had the greatest influence or impact on ecosystems.

Leave it to Beaver: Beaver Dam Releasing Water Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Beaver Dam Releasing Water
Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
“Oh”, I said making certain I had now understood the question. “In that case I have no hesitation now in saying the Beaver.” The room grew quiet, but the Ranger agreed with my answer.

Leave it to Beaver: Below a Beaver Dam Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Below a Beaver Dam
Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
There is no question that all animals impact ecosystems. Heavy grazing or browsing by deer or elk can change the structure of forests and meadows. Predators, or the lack of them, can definitely alter what happens to those species. But consider the beaver for a moment. There are positive and negative things they do, but they definitely impact ecosystems. So consider this love-hate relationship humans have with them.

Yes, they will take down some trees to build dams and lodges. Problems might include:
The potential flooding of homes, agricultural land, timber land or orchards;
Their abandoned dams can create floods as they collapse;
There is potential flooding of roads and blocking of culverts;
And the deterioration of stream banks can occur.

But in a natural setting, where they do not impact roads or developments, beavers can do amazing things.
On the positive side, they create ponds which:
Provide habitat for trout;
Provide drinking water for all the animals in the area, from birds to bears;
Provide a storage of water that could be critical in drought conditions;
Trap silt and control small floods;
Invigorate the sprouting of early riparian and wetland plants;
Can help combat the effects of continual rising temperatures and earlier Spring snowmelt by maintaining a water supply for ranching, wildlife and native vegetation;
And they are basically constructed and maintained at little or no cost to humans.

Utah State University, and the Division of Wildlife Resources, have been developing partnerships with landowners to help restore beavers in locations where they can succeed and provide benefits to the land, wildlife, and ranching efforts. In areas where there are few trees, they construct Beaver Dam Analogues by pounding fence posts across streams, weaving willow branches between them, and plugging the base with large rocks and mud. These are similar to natural beaver dams and give them a good start to build their own homes there.
If you are aware of any beavers in questionable areas, contact

USU Watershed Sciences or the DWR to help relocate them where they can impact ecosystems in positive ways.

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

North American Beaver, Castor canadensis, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Wildlife Notebook Series No. 24,
http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=download&item=56529

UTAH BEAVER MANAGEMENT PLAN 2010–2020, Developed with the Beaver Advisory Committee, DWR Publication 09-29, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 2010, https://wildlife.utah.gov/furbearer/pdf/beaver_plan_2010-2020.pdf

WATS 6860 – Partnering with Beaver in Restoration Design, University Catalog 2017-2018, Utah State University, http://catalog.usu.edu/preview_course_nopop.php?catoid=12&coid=93002

Beaver: Restoration liaison between riparian and upland systems. Joe Wheaton, Assistant Professor, Utah …, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62A3RqL7Xp8

WEBINAR: Cheap and Cheerful Stream Riparian Restoration with Beaver. Joe Wheaton …
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1uysDrOI_w

Beaver Restoration Workshop, Partnering with Beaver in Restoration, http://beaver.joewheaton.org/

Webinar: Cheap & Cheerful Stream Restoration – With Beaver? http://beaver.joewheaton.org/beaver-news/webinar-cheap-cheerful-stream-restoration-with-beaver

Science Unwrapped Talk by Joe on Beaver
http://beaver.joewheaton.org/beaver-news/science-unwrapped-talk-by-joe-on-beaver

Videos & Movies
http://beaver.joewheaton.org/videos–movies.html

Joe Wheaton – Beaver: Restoration liaison between riparian and upland systems
https://forestry.usu.edu/videos-conferences-webinars/conferences/restoring-west-conference-2013/joe-wheaton

Dr. Joseph Michael Wheaton, Watershed Sciences, Associate Professor, https://qcnr.usu.edu/directory/wheaton_joseph
Utah Water Watch, Beaver Monitoring App, http://extension.usu.edu/utahwaterwatch/citizenscience/beavermonitoringapp/

Beaver Dam Mapping App Now Available for Citizen Scientists, http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/environment/item/148-citizen-scientists-can-now-use-an-app-to-help-map-beaver-dams-in-utah


ARKive Images of Life on Earth, Information Sheet on Castor Canadensis (including some outstanding videos) http://www.arkive.org/ – (BBC Natural History Unit)

  • American Beaver – Overview
  • American Beaver in the Lodge with Young
  • American beaver felling trees and storing food for the winter
  • American beaver scaring moose away from its lodge
  • American beaver returning to its lodge with food

  • 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. http://www.springerlink.com/content/v48769740n817601/fulltext.pdf [ Accessed May 1, 2010]

    Prettyman, B. 2009. Utah wildlife: Leave it to the beavers. Article in Salt Lake Tribune, October 16, 2009. http://www.sltrib.com/ci_13570110 [ Accessed April 29, 2010]

    Smithsonian Castor Canadensis Information Page http://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, http://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 http://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

    Monitoring Utah Moose and their Calves

    Monitoring Utah Moose: Shiras Moose Cow in Northern Utah Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
    Shiras Moose Cow in Northern Utah
    Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
    In the early 1900s, moose began expanding south into Utah from Wyoming.
    This moose sub-species was named in honor of [Congressman] George Shiras III who explored Yellowstone in the early 1900’s and found large numbers of moose.

    The Shiras (Shy-ras) moose is the smallest sub-species and occupies the southern-most moose habitat. Specific to the southern Rocky Mountains, the population extends from the bottom of British Columbia, Canada to Colorado.
    For the past 100 years, Utah’s Shiras moose population has fluctuated, peaking at 3,500 in 2005. The number has now stabilized at about 2,700.

    Dan MacNulty, associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resource at USU, and his research team, joined with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to identify what threatens Utah’s moose population, and then work together to ensure the herds remain stable.
    The condition of a moose herd is highly dependent on the health of its adult females, hence, this has been the focus of their research.

    Shiras Moose Cow & Calf Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
    Shiras Moose Cow & Calf
    Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
    In May or June, the females begin having their calves. The calves remain with their mothers for a full year. If the mother is expecting, she’ll chase the yearling off before the new calf arrives.

    Once the yearling has left, the mother begins searching for secluded thicket to have her calf. Usually the thicket is so dense, a hiker walking by would never know the mother and calf are nearby.
    The female moose will stay in the thicket with her calf until its strong enough to walk by her side. Unlike deer, who hide their young while they graze, moose keep their calves in sight.

    Shiras Moose with Moose Ticks Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
    Shiras Moose with Moose Ticks
    Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
    One threat, neither the mothers nor calves can hide from – is the winter tick, also known as the moose tick since moose are its preferred host. Deer and elk are able to keep most ticks rubbed off. The winter tick is not prone to pester humans.

    Sam Robertson, USU graduate student in MacNulty’s lab explains, “They are a one-host tick and will remain on the same animal during all three stages of the tick’s life.”
    In the late summer, the winter tick larvae climb up blades of grass, or other vegetation, and wait for a moose to walk by. When it does, the ticks will jump on, take hold, and stay latched on to the moose for its blood meals and growth until early spring when the tick falls off. By this time, the female moose is at her weakest – likely due to lack of food and tick load.

    Kent Hersey, Big Game Projects Coordinator for DWR, explains, “In April, [after the long winter of using their fat stores] the female moose are usually in their worst possible condition. Hopefully they’ll find enough green vegetation to regain energy to help the calf’s growth in its last trimester, and produce sufficient milk reserves.”
    To monitor females and calves in 2017, GPS collars were fitted on 80 adult females and 26 6-8 month old calves.
    The data from the Wasatch herd indicated that, “The average tick load for adult females who lost their calves within the first couple of days after birth was almost double the average tick load.”
    Monitoring of mother moose and calves will continue through 2018 to see how tick abundance changes from year to year.

    Once the multi-year tick data are gathered and analyzed, the researchers and managers hope to begin searching for management methods to decrease the tick loads on moose – which in turn, will enhance the stability of Utah’s Shiras Moose population.

    This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

    Credits:
    Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson Department of Wildland Resources, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
    Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

    Sources & Additional Reading

    Leavitt, Shauna, Securing Utah’s Moose Population, Wild About Utah, July 10, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/securing-utahs-moose-population/

    Moose, Alces apces, compiled by Anthony Bell, Vertebrate Zoology Collections Assistant, Utah Museum of Natural History, https://nhmu.utah.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/Alces%20alces.pdf

    Moose entering water, Jeff Rice, Western Soundscape Archive; University of Utah, https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=1117822

    Moose in Utah, Jason Pietrzak, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society/Utah Public Radio, 30 Sept 2008, http://wildaboututah.org/moose-in-utah/

    Moose, Wild Aware Utah, Hogle Zoo & Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://www.wildawareutah.org/utah-wildlife-information/moose/

    Utah Moose Statewide Management Program, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/moose_plan.pdf

    http://www.wildawareutah.org/

    http://wildlife.utah.gov/hardwareranch/comment/HRWMA_management_plan.pdf

    https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/moose_plan.pdf

    http://utah.ptfs.com/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10838

    http://www.researchgate.net/publication/257449101_A_HISTORY_OF_MOOSE_MANAGEMENT_IN_UTAH

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/55461427-78/aoude-decline-moose-north.html.csp

    http://wildaboututah.org/moose-in-utah/

    http://www.utah.com/wildlife/northern.htm

    Utah’s Unbelievable Ungulates, Nature’s Call, Fall 1997, Utah Project Wild, Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/97fall-gw.pdf

    Where Do They Go When It Snows?!, Nature’s Call, Winter 1993, Utah Project Wild, Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/93winter-nc.pdf

    Winter Tick, (Moose Tick), Forests, Wildlife and Parks of Quebec, Ministère des Ressources naturelles,
    https://mffp.gouv.qc.ca/english/wildlife/wildlife-habitats/winter-tick.jsp

    Tick Species of Maine – Winter Tick or Moose Tick, UMaine Cooperative Extension: Insect Pests, Ticks and Plant Diseases, University of Maine, https://extension.umaine.edu/ipm/tickid/maine-tick-species/winter-tick-or-moose-tick/

    State Symbols

    Most people could probably name the state bird or the state tree, but what about the state gem? The state grass? State fruit? Do you know why they are important to Utah? Here are just a few of Utah’s State Symbols that you might not have known.

    State Symbols: Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard's Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
    Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard’s Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
    Topaz was named Utah’s state gem in 1969 because of its abundance on Topaz or Thomas Mountain in Juab County. In this area, perfect topaz crystals can be found and collected. This semiprecious gem can also be found in Beaver and Toole counties. Topaz can be found in a variety of colors, but in the Thomas Range it is known for its sherry hue. When exposed to sunlight, amber colored topaz will often become clear. Topaz collecting is free and open to the public in most areas and could be a great way to get to know Utah a little bit better.

    Utah’s state grass was selected in 1990 to be Indian Ricegrass. As you might suspect, indian ricegrass was given its name because of the significance in Native American life. This tough bunchgrass was a common food source and was absolutely crucial to survival when the corn crop failed.

    Indian Ricegrass Courtesy US National Park Service
    Indian Ricegrass
    Courtesy US National Park Service
    It can be found in wet and dry areas throughout the West. Long ago this grass was important for Native Americans; now it is important in fighting wind erosion and grazing cattle.

    The cherry did not become the state fruit until 1997 when a group of second graders did their research and petitioned for the fruit to be recognized. Cherry was discovered to be the most economically beneficial fruit for Utah when compared to other fruits like peaches and apples. Both sweet and tart cherries are grown commercially in Utah. Utah is the only state ranked in the top five cherry producing states for both types of cherries.

    US Cherries for sale in Korea Courtesy USDA
    US Cherries for sale in Korea
    Courtesy USDA
    The cherry is native to Asia, but flourishes in Utah’s environment.

    The state insect might be a little easier to guess than the state grass and state fruit. Utah is known as the beehive state, so naturally our state insect is the honeybee. When settlers first arrived in Utah they called it Deseret which means honeybee. Some native bees are listed as endangered species, but many Utahns have become “backyard beekeepers” to help these bees survive.

    Honeybee Extracts Nectar Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
    Honeybee Extracts Nectar
    Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
    Bees might seem insignificant, but are actually the unsung heroes of the world’s food supply. Growing bee friendly plants or becoming a beekeeper yourself are great ways to help Utah’s honeybee thrive.

    No matter where in the state of Utah you are, you can learn more about these plants, animals, and rocks and see them in action. As a Chinese proverb says, “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

    This is Aspen Flake and I am Wild About Utah.

    Credits:
    Photos: Courtesy US NPS and US FWS
    Text: Aspen Flake

    Additional Reading & Listening

    State Symbols, as found on OnlineLibrary.Utah.gov, http://onlinelibrary.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/

    Utah as found in StateSymbolsUSA.org: https://statesymbolsusa.org/states/united-states/utah

    Gorman, Steve, U.S. Lists a Bumble Bee Species as Endangered for First Time, Scientific American, A Division of Nature America, Inc., Jan 11, 2017,
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-lists-a-bumble-bee-species-as-endangered-for-first-time/

    Hrala, Josh, 7 Bee Species Have Been Added to The US Endangered Species List, ScienceAlert.com, 3 OCT 2016, https://www.sciencealert.com/seven-species-of-bees-have-been-added-to-the-endangered-species-list

    Insects: Bees in trouble and agriculture decline, Endangered Species International, Inc. http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/insects6.html

    Ingraham, Christopher, Believe it or not, the bees are doing just fine, Washington Post, October 10, 2016
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/10/believe-it-or-not-the-bees-are-doing-just-fine/

    Jack’s Cougar Encounter

    jacks 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 northern 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 USDA Forest Service
    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

    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
    Text:     Jack Greene

    Sources & Additional Reading:

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

    http://wildlife.utah.gov/publications/pdf/newlion.pdf

    Starving Cougar Attacks Vernal Man, Hans Moran, Deseret News Nov. 12, 1997, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/594408/Starving-cougar-attacks-Vernal-man.html

    Mountain Lion, National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/mountain-lion.html