Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers

Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers: A beaver dam built by resident beavers on the Price River. The dam helps hold the water on the desert landscape which benefits the native and endangered fish populations. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer
Dam on the Price River_Emma Doden: A beaver dam built by resident beavers on the Price River. The dam helps hold the water on the desert landscape which benefits the native and endangered fish populations
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

The beaver’s powerful hands and tail which are used to build dams in Utah’s desert rivers. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer The beaver’s powerful hands and tail which are used to build dams in Utah’s desert rivers.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Emma Doden, graduate student in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at USU  conducting radio telemetry to find the location of both resident and translocated beavers. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Emma Doden, graduate student in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at USU conducting radio telemetry to find the location of both resident and translocated beavers.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Quarantine Pen – Once a beaver is caught it is placed  in quarantine for three days before translocated so it will not spread disease.  The beaver is kept cool, well fed, and close to water. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Quarantine Pen – Once a beaver is caught it is placed in quarantine for three days before translocated so it will not spread disease. The beaver is kept cool, well fed, and close to water.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Adult beaver being released into Utah desert rivers after they have been equipped with radio-transmitter and PIT-tags in their tails. Researchers can then use radio telemetry to track the movement of the beavers. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Adult beaver being released into Utah desert rivers after they have been equipped with radio-transmitter and PIT-tags in their tails. Researchers can then use radio telemetry to track the movement of the beavers.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Adult beaver being released into Utah desert rivers after they have been equipped with radio-transmitter and PIT-tags in their tails. Researchers can then use radio telemetry to track the movement of the beavers. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Adult beaver being released into Utah desert rivers after they have been equipped with radio-transmitter and PIT-tags in their tails. Researchers can then use radio telemetry to track the movement of the beavers.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

San Rafael River: a tributary of the Green River which runs through some of the driest parts of Utah. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer San Rafael River: a tributary of the Green River which runs through some of the driest parts of Utah.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Processing a beaver kit, Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Processing a beaver kit,
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Radio transmitters: The types of radio transmitters which are attached to the beaver’s tails so researchers can monitor its movement. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Radio transmitters: The types of radio transmitters which are attached to the beaver’s tails so researchers can monitor its movement.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

The Price and San Rafael rivers flow through some of Utah’s driest areas. Both are tributaries of the Green River. These rivers are essential to sustain the wildlife, riparian vegetation, native and endangered fish populations, and livestock that live in Utah’s eastern desert.

Beavers, native to both rivers, have far-reaching impacts on these waterways because of their ability to build dams which hold the water on the arid landscape – they are nature’s aquatic engineers.

One beaver dam can improve the living conditions for a host of fish, insects, plants, birds and mammals who live in and around the river.

Emma Doden, a graduate student in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at USU is working to understand the dynamics of beavers who are translocated to desert rivers for restoration purposes and how they compare to the naturally-occurring resident beavers who are already established.

Doden explains, “I help relocate nuisance beavers to desert river systems to give them a second chance, and help restore the river for the imperiled and endangered fish species…in this arid climate.”

Currently, Doden’s work is “passive desert river restoration” because there is no machinery manipulating the landscape or man-made structures impacting the research results. She is relying solely on beavers and their resources which have been part of the rivers’ ecosystems for millions of years. The beavers’ engineering teeth, tails, and paws build dams and lodges from riparian vegetation, gravel and mud.

Many of the translocated beavers come from the USU Beaver Rehabilitation and Relocation Center which captures nuisance beavers, quarantines them for three days to ensure they cannot spread disease, then passes them to Doden to be released in the desert system.

Nate Norman, a field biologist in the USU Ecology Center who helps operate the Beaver Rehabilitation and Relocation Center said, “Working with Paul Chase from the US Forest Service we have trapped and relocated approximately 8 to 10 beavers from around Cache Valley [in northern Utah, to the desert rivers in Doden’s research.“

Both the resident and translocated beavers in the study receive a radio-transmitter and PIT-tag in their tail.

Doden explains, “The PIT-tag is similar to the microchip [a] dog or cat gets at the vet for identification if it ever gets lost. We use radio-transmitters and PIT-tags to track the movements of our beavers so they do not become lost after release.”

To this point, 90% of the translocated beavers have moved outside Doden’s research area as they explored their new habitat. They were probably searching for a companion and a suitable place to build a home.

This travelling increases the beaver’s vulnerability to predators since they have no underground burrow or lodge for protection. During the 2019 field season, of the eight beavers released, three of the translocated beavers were taken by predators.

Many of the tributaries of the Green and Colorado rivers are wood-deprived because of changes in the river flow due to human extraction. To increase a translocated beaver’s chances of surviving and its likelihood of remaining where it’s placed, the research team has proposed building simple dam-like structures out of wood fence posts, which would encourage the beavers to stay where they’re released. Once they receive NEPA approval the structures will be built.

Doden adds, “Our project goals are already being met, as we are learning so much about the fate of translocated beavers in desert ecosystems. Restoration goals will also be met if even a few beavers stay in the study area and build dams, supplementing the resident beaver population and creating more complex habitat for imperiled desert fish to live.”

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

Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers-Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & © Emma Doden
Lead Audio: Courtesy and © Friend Weller
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers-Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, Rosy Finches, Wild About Utah, March 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/rosy-finches/

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

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

Goodwin, Jim, Riparian Zones and a Critter Quiz, Wild About Utah, June 15, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/riparian-zones-and-a-critter-quiz/

Kervin, Linda, Huddling for Warmth, Wild About Utah, February 3, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/huddling-for-warmth/

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

Ramsey, R. Douglas, Banner, Roger E., McGinty, Ellie I. Leydsman, Watershed Basins in Utah, USU Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/rangelands/ou-files/RRU_Section_Four.pdf

Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah

Beaver Holding Facility: Beaver, Castor canadensis, Courtesy FWS, Steve Hillebrand, photographer
Beaver, Castor canadensis, Courtesy FWS, Steve Hillebrand, photographer
Nuisance beavers, who in recent years were viewed as pests and quickly disposed of, are now in high demand.Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah

A growing number of ranchers, and federal and state agencies are asking to have beavers translocated to their lands to act as affordable ecosystem engineers to restore riparian habitats, hold water on the dry arid lands, and restore creeks to their historic condition.

Currently the number of requests for live beavers outnumbers the amount of available animals.

Spawn Creek Beaver Dams Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer
Spawn Creek Beaver Dams
Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer
Nick Bouwes, Assistant Professor in Watershed Sciences at Utah State University said, “To assist in fulfilling this need, USU’s Department of Watershed Sciences and Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources is working with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to build a beaver holding facility a few miles south of USU’s main campus.”

The architects are drafting blueprints, consultants are analyzing the needs of beavers in captivity, and scientists are seeking funding for the project.

According to Joseph Wheaton, Associate Professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences, “We plan to build a place where [beaver] that would typically be lethally removed, will be given a second chance by moving them to places where their engineering skills will be helpful in stream restoration and …where they won’t get into trouble.”

Beaver Cutting Courtesty & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer
Beaver Cutting
Courtesty & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer
Bouwes adds, “It’s…not as easy as simply catching and releasing a beaver. A lot goes on to increase their ability to survive and stay put after the release. They are social animals, so trapping a whole family unit is the best method. If a single beaver is released, they tend to take off and look for other beavers.”

Researchers hope the facility will expand to be an educational tool where they can hold workshops, study the beavers themselves, and educate the public with tours and visiting hours.


The project includes a design for a mobile trapping facility. This will allow the researchers to travel around the state trapping beavers that are currently in incompatible locations.

Bouwes explains, “It’s basically a trailer with kennels to keep the beavers cool. They are…sensitive to heat. If we go off location for any length of time, being able to keep the beavers cool and [safe]…will be very useful.”

When the trailer arrives back at the holding facility, scientists will move the beavers to kennels that have a slight slope and a divot at the end that serves as a small pond where the beavers can swim.

Nate Norman, consultant on the project from Balance Environmental, adds, “We are not looking for this to be a new home, we just want it to be safe and comfortable for the beavers until we can get them back into the wild.”

Researchers will quarantine the beavers for 72 hours to ensure they are free of disease and parasites, before managers move them to a new watershed.

Once the quarantine is complete, scientists will use the Beaver Assessment Tool to determine where the beaver family would most likely succeed.

Bouwes explains, “This [tool] looks at all the stream networks across Utah and identifies…the best place to re-introduce beaver. It evaluates the dam building capacity of a stream, and identifies places of potential conflict.”

The success of this project is dependent on its partners: DWR provides the expertise and oversight, USU supplies the land and research facilities, and ranchers allow access to streams for placing the beavers.

When the beaver holding facility is open, scientists and managers hope to be translocating 50-100 beavers a year.

Those interested in learning more about beavers and stream restoration are invited to attend a workshop at USU in October.

Look for details at restoration.usu.edu.

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

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mark McKinstry
Audio: Courtesy Western Soundscape Archive, University of Utah, Sound provided by Jeff Rice, licenesed under CCA-ND
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

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

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

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, Wild About Utah, August 16, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/beavers-the-original-army-corps-of-engineers/

Beaver Monitoring App, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/utahwaterwatch/citizenscience/beavermonitoringapp/

Fluvial Habitats Center/Ecogeomorphology & Topographic Analysis Laboratory, Joe Wheaton et. al. http://etal.joewheaton.org/

Riparian Zones and a Critter Quiz

Hello, this is Jim Goodwin.

In a minute I’ve got a critter quiz for you, but first, a word about the huge importance of riparian areas in semi-arid Utah, the second driest state in the union. Utah State’s Extension Service calls riparian zones the green ribbon of life alongside a stream. They are shadier, cooler and moister than adjacent environments.

And with a diverse mix of plants and animals, our few riparian corridors are heavily used by wildlife for food, rest and shelter.

Ok, now for our critter quiz.

What is the largest rodent in North America? Here’s a hint: they can be up to four feet long and weigh 40 to 60 pounds.

Did that do it? No? Alright, this clue will: They spend much of their life in water. They have a beautiful brown coat, a broad flat hairless tail and big orange buck teeth that continually grow, which is why they chew and chew and chew.

Click for larger picture, Beaver with branch in water, Courtesy US FWS, Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
Beaver with branch in water
Courtesy US FWS,
Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
Good, you got it . . . it’s the North American beaver. Or as Utah environmental author Chip Ward calls them: the Flat Tail Climate Hero for the restoration of damaged watersheds. Beaver are amazing aquatic engineers, second only to humans in their ability to manipulate their environment.

In our nation’s history, they’ve played a big role in literarily shaping our western landscape.
Joe Wheaton, Utah State wildlife and a beaver expert, rightly calls the work of the beaver “cheap and cheerful restoration” of our heat stressed watersheds.

In the wild, these mostly nocturnal animals, normally live five to ten years.
Fortunately, they are rarely killed for their pelts these days. Beaver are usually monogamous. They will produce up to 10 babies. The young kits will stay home until they are two or so, before they will take off on their own.

Beaver are master aquatic builders. the original geo-engineers. They build dams to flood areas for protection from predators, for access to their food supply, and to provide safe underwater entrances to their dens. Their dams create beautiful riparian habitat for many other animals, birds, fish amphibians, insects and plants. The flooded areas slow the flow of water and sediment downstream and raise the area water table.

Aspen, cottonwood, willow and dogwood are their preferred tree. Those trees regenerate quickly after beaver topple them. When their ponds freeze over, beaver jam smaller branches into the mud at the bottom of their pond for food storage.

Beaver dams can be 5 to 10 feet high and 150 feet across. They are constructed with branches, stones, and plants and plastered together with mud. Over 1200 beaver dams have been counted in northern Utah’s Bear River mountains alone. The World’s largest beaver dam in Canada is 2,789 feet in length. That’s more than 9 football fields.

Yes, sometimes beaver can be a nuisance to human property and activities. Often, learning to live with beaver and the many benefits they can bring, can be a solution. There are simple time-tested ways to prevent flooding. But if nothing works, they can be live trapped and moved to another area. There’s no need to shoot them.

Be a “beaver believer.” Here are some organizations you can check with to learn more:
Utah State wildlife researchers Wally McFarland and Joe Wheaton have created something called the Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool to track beaver dam building activities and their effects throughout the state.
The Bear River Watershed Council in Cache Valley and Mary O’Brien with the Grand Canyon Trust in southern Utah are excellent organizations to contact.

I’m Jim Goodwin for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
Text:     Jim Goodwin

Additional Reading:

Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool, http://brat.joewheaton.org/

Bear River Watershed Council, (disbanded, formerly at: http://www.brwcouncil.org/)

Grand Canyon Trust, http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/

Beaver Castor canadensis, National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/beaver/

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

Riparian Zones and a Critter Quiz

Hello, this is Jim Goodwin.

In a minute I’ve got a critter quiz for you, but first, a word about the huge importance of riparian areas in semi-arid Utah, the second driest state in the union. Utah State’s Extension Service calls riparian zones the green ribbon of life alongside a stream. They are shadier, cooler and moister than adjacent environments.

And with a diverse mix of plants and animals, our few riparian corridors are heavily used by wildlife for food, rest and shelter.

Ok, now for our critter quiz.

What is the largest rodent in North America? Here’s a hint: they can be up to four feet long and weigh 40 to 60 pounds.

Did that do it? No? Alright, this clue will: They spend much of their life in water. They have a beautiful brown coat, a broad flat hairless tail and big orange buck teeth that continually grow, which is why they chew and chew and chew.

Click for larger picture, Beaver with branch in water, Courtesy US FWS, Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
Beaver with branch in water
Courtesy US FWS,
Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
Good, you got it . . . it’s the North American beaver. Or as Utah environmental author Chip Ward calls them: the Flat Tail Climate Hero for the restoration of damaged watersheds. Beaver are amazing aquatic engineers, second only to humans in their ability to manipulate their environment.

In our nation’s history, they’ve played a big role in literarily shaping our western landscape.
Joe Wheaton, Utah State wildlife and a beaver expert, rightly calls the work of the beaver “cheap and cheerful restoration” of our heat stressed watersheds.

In the wild, these mostly nocturnal animals, normally live five to ten years.
Fortunately, they are rarely killed for their pelts these days. Beaver are usually monogamous. They will produce up to 10 babies. The young kits will stay home until they are two or so, before they will take off on their own.

Beaver are master aquatic builders. the original geo-engineers. They build dams to flood areas for protection from predators, for access to their food supply, and to provide safe underwater entrances to their dens. Their dams create beautiful riparian habitat for many other animals, birds, fish amphibians, insects and plants. The flooded areas slow the flow of water and sediment downstream and raise the area water table.

Aspen, cottonwood, willow and dogwood are their preferred tree. Those trees regenerate quickly after beaver topple them. When their ponds freeze over, beaver jam smaller branches into the mud at the bottom of their pond for food storage.

Beaver dams can be 5 to 10 feet high and 150 feet across. They are constructed with branches, stones, and plants and plastered together with mud. Over 1200 beaver dams have been counted in northern Utah’s Bear River mountains alone. The World’s largest beaver dam in Canada is 2,789 feet in length. That’s more than 9 football fields.

Yes, sometimes beaver can be a nuisance to human property and activities. Often, learning to live with beaver and the many benefits they can bring, can be a solution. There are simple time-tested ways to prevent flooding. But if nothing works, they can be live trapped and moved to another area. There’s no need to shoot them.

Be a “beaver believer.” Here are some organizations you can check with to learn more:
Utah State wildlife researchers Wally McFarland and Joe Wheaton have created something called the Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool to track beaver dam building activities and their effects throughout the state.
The Bear River Watershed Council in Cache Valley and Mary O’Brien with the Grand Canyon Trust in southern Utah are excellent organizations to contact.

I’m Jim Goodwin for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
Text:     Jim Goodwin

Additional Reading:

Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool, http://brat.joewheaton.org/

Bear River Watershed Council, http://www.brwcouncil.org/

Grand Canyon Trust, http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/

Beaver Castor canadensis, National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/beaver/

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