Using Beaver to Restore Streams, Managers from California to Alaska Gather to Learn

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

By: Meghan Kearney, North Pacific LCC

Around the globe, stream ecosystems are facing widespread degradation due to factors like land use and climate change. One, often considered problematic critter, is now being recognized as a key benefactor of climate change and conservation efforts to stream ecosystems: the beaver.

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Credit: Creative Commons/Flickr

The interest in using beaver for stream restoration has gained momentum in recent years, with a number of organizations from around the globe expressing great interest in understanding how to implement beaver into landscape-level stream restoration. Some groups have moved forward with this interest and have begun conducting research, even moving into pilot restoration projects. The problem is that the projects are happening in small pockets, each led by just a few of the scientists with beaver expertise. This inadvertently excludes many land managers from highly relevant beaver research, and leaves those interested in beaver restoration in the dark.

In 2011, the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative recognized the interest in this growing conservation trend, and the need to leverage research and share information. With this in mind, the NPLCC provided funds to U.S Fish & Wildlife and Portland State University to convene over 200 interested parties to learn about and discuss the potential inclusion of beaver in stream restoration.

With a primary goal of providing the best available science to land managers, this project carried out the mission of the NPLCC through support for five workshops throughout the range of the NPLCC from northern California to southeast Alaska. These workshops were structured for a wide range of participants, from those who had little-to-no expertise to those with years of practical experience with beaver -- but all had an overwhelming interest in learning how to incorporate beaver into their restoration efforts and management decisions. Two workshops in Portland, Oregon at the World Forestry Center quickly filled up with representatives from federal and state agencies, tribes, non-profits, consultants and private land owners. Workshops in Washington, California and Alaska followed.

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Biologists from UW carry two beaver to their new lodge in a creek near the Skykomish River. Credit: NWIFC

Although there are many beaver restoration projects happening throughout the region, these workshops play a special role because they bring together experts from around the region to share their work with these diverse groups of managers. On-the-ground work was presented and shared with participants capable of spreading this great conservation potential.

The interactive workshops provided Beaver and River Restoration 101; topics ranged from beaver basics to the nitty-gritty of the permitting process. Greg Lewallen of Portland State University opened the workshop with a presentation on a state-of-science manual, "Restoring Beaver to Restore Rivers," a document set to be released in June, that is the backbone of the workshop.

"We like to think of beavers as stream engineers, or farmers, modifying their own environments to find food" described Chris Jordan, an ecologist with of NOAA Fisheries' Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Jordan provided an overview of beaver life history and habitat requirements best suited for beaver to play a beneficial role in stream ecosystems.

"Using beaver to restore streams is a long term commitment," NOAA's Michael Pollock explains. "You're going to need to collaborate," he says. Pollock is currently part of a team leading efforts to map beaver habitat and reintroduce beaver dams to landscapes.

In the Snohomish lowlands, the Tulalip Tribe is also leading efforts to relocate beaver from areas where they are considered a nuisance to public river areas where they are appreciated for the role they play in improving river ecology.

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Biologists from the Tulalip Tribes and Forest Service release beaver into a new lodge. Credit: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Kent Woodruff of the U.S. Forest Service also spoke at the workshop, covering a twelve step program in the Methow Valley on how to properly relocate beavers. Woodruff jokes that he runs a "Match.com for beavers." A program that captures nuisance beavers and houses them in fish hatchery raceways that mimic their natural environments allows Woodruff and his team to monitor beaver for compatibility before releasing them as a colony back into the ecosystem.

The topic of permitting was the hottest topic of the day, not surprisingly in a room full of land managers, who are eager to move forward quickly. Oregon already has a set of permit and relocation guidelines in place, but the need for a more landscape-level regulatory process was expressed by the entire group.

"It's about the people," agreed Tom Stahl and Charlie Corrarino, current and retired employees of the Oregon Department of Fish and wildlife, respectively. They provided an overview on the steps ODFW has taken to make the beaver relocation permitting process more streamlined in Oregon, explaining they are encouraging the state of Washington to move towards something similar. "Not everyone is coordinated on this complex issue, in a very complex regulatory environment," Pollock chimed in.

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A post line installed as part of NOAA's restoration project. Chewed stems perpendicular to the structure show beaver have started to colonize. Credit: NOAA NWFSC

Many challenges still lie ahead before fully successful restoration efforts can begin in earnest. "The key is expanded outreach," said one workshop participant. The room agrees. "That needs to be our job," Woodruff added as he motioned the room to take what they learned and share it with at least one other interested party.

The Through these workshops, hundreds of connections will have been made that will lead to more efficient collaboration and a more widespread understanding of beaver as a benefactor, rather than a problem.

More Info:
ODFW Guidelines for Relocation of Beaver in Oregon
Tulalip Tribe Beaver Relocation Project
More photos from Tulalip Beaver Restoration Project
Methow Valley Beaver Project
NOAA Fisheries: Working with Beaver to Restore Salmon Habitat

For more information on these workshops please contact Janine Castro (503.231.6977). For more information on the NPLCC project, visit the project profile or contact Mary Mahaffy (mary_mahaffy@fws.gov), NPLCC Science Coordinator.

Categories: NPLCC Projects, Partner Spotlight