Midday Friday afternoon the beaver newsroom started buzzing. Phone lines ringing and reporters hopping into vehicles to catch rapidly emerging stories. Well, in reality it was just me alone with a google alert, but it was still pretty exciting. Three – count them – THREE unrelated articles on the good things beavers do. Seeing a cluster of articles isn’t that unusual since the media loves to copy, but these stories are all about different projects in different areas and only related by the theme – and the commenter. Let’s start with my favorite:
By NANCY McCARTHY The Daily Astorian
SEASIDE — They call themselves the “beaver believers.”
Those who are restoring the Thompson Falls wetland west of Nygaard Road near Stanley Marsh believe beavers are the key to the future that will unlock the past. And, after only a few weeks, the “believers” are being proven right.
“I saw the first sign of beavers two weeks ago,” said Austin Tomlinson, who does soil and water conservation and restoration. “Come spring, I’m hoping they will take off” and colonize the site. Developer Casey Corkrey took on the project to restore four acres of the Thompson Falls wetland to compensate for a project he plans to build on a wetland at the junction of U.S. Highways 101 and 26 between Seaside and Cannon Beach. The project at the junction will include storage units, warehouses and some retail space, Corkrey said.
To obtain a permit to fill in a wetland area for development, the Oregon Department of State Lands requires that developers find ways to avoid or reduce the impact on wetlands. If that isn’t possible, the state will allow restoration of a substitute wetland, stream or other water resource that is comparable to the impacted wetland.
But after three years of seeking permission from the state and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and receiving advice from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Corkrey finally was able to begin work on what some call the “cutting edge” in sustainable mitigation projects.
Anyone wanna guess what that “cutting edge” project might be? I bet you all have some idea. Raise your hands high so I can see them. You in the front row. “Might it have a flat tail and a habit of buildling dams by any chance?”
Sitka spruce trees depend on water – lots of water – to survive. That’s where the beavers come in. The dams they build create pools and force water to flood the pasture, providing a habitat for the 400 spruce trees that were gathered from land owned by Longview Timber.
So beavers save water and water saves spruce and conservationists save beavers. Makes sense to me!
By using beavers to do most of the work instead of using the usual excavation and restoration techniques for wetlands mitigation, Ray estimated that the project cost was reduced by $60,000 to $80,000.
Without financial support from Corkrey, who is paying for the project, and the help of volunteers from the land conservancy and Tualatin Valley Trout Unlimited who have planted thousands of willow seedlings on the site and cleared invasive reed canary grass, the project would have taken much longer, said Celeste Lebo, stewardship director for the North Coast Land Conservancy.
“Without Casey’s generosity and Doug’s amazing creativity, it might have cost maybe $200,000,” Lebo said. “We would have had to apply for grants, which are very competitive, and it would have taken a lot more time.” The beavers, she added, will do what they normally do: create water places for animals to exist. “We’re all beaver believers, of course,” Lebo said. “They can restore the land a lot better than we do.”
Yes, they can. Fun fact on this article. My comment existed in the world for about 12 minutes before I got an email from “Doug”. Turns out he was at the State of the Beaver conference in 2011 and attended my presentation and thought it was awesome. He was dynamically influenced by all the good information he received there and inspired to try this on his own turf. Pretty small world if you ask me.
Larry Hyslop: Elko Free Press
Maggie and Susie Creeks flow south, entering the Humboldt River near Carlin. Much of their lengths are private lands, owned by ranches and mines, along with BLM-administered public lands.
The riparian zones along these streams are looking good these days. A lot of work has been done over the last 20 years to recover the riparian conditions along these streams. Ranchers, agencies, mines, and non-profit groups have partnered to do this work. Much of the improvement has come from changes in grazing techniques and specific projects.
All this work is getting a boost by beavers. As the stream habitat has improved, especially increasing woody material like willows, beavers have moved in and accomplished even more work. A remote sensing project found 107 beaver dams along 20 miles of Maggie Creek in 2006, which rose to 271 dams in 2010.
Elko is in eastern Nevada where they need water a lot. You would think that this wisdom had reached across the state, but I’ve had more than one argument with an old ranger who insists that beavers aren’t native on the west side and don’t belong in the area. This is a nice article though, and I couldn’t be happier that a large government agency like the Bureau of Land Management, is behind it.
Beaver dams slow the water and collect sediment that used to be lost downstream. In five years, ponds have increased the amount of impounded water on Maggie Creek from nine miles of stream to 16 miles. In spots, the ponds are forming marshy meadows.
These ponds mean a wider riparian zone along the creeks, bringing in more water tolerant plants and killing brush. Wider riparian zones create fuel breaks for future wildfires. The impounded water is seeping into the ground and raising the water table. Newmont’s shallow groundwater monitoring wells have shown about a two foot rise over the past 17 years along Maggie Creek.
Carol Evans is a fisheries biologist with the BLM and has worked on these streams for many years. “Beavers are radically changing the landscape. I really don’t know where this is going,” she said.
Ooh I know! I know! Call on me!
Carol brought up an interesting idea. We blame much of today’s stream damage on past grazing practices and higher livestock stocking rates, especially during the late 1800s. But how much stream damage was done during the 1800s as beavers were removed by fur trappers?
It is estimated we lost 90 percent of the beaver population across the west during the 1800s. As untended dams gave out, streams were damaged from increased sediment flows and eroded channels. Riparian zones shrank, water tables dropped, plant species were lost and brush moved in. Cattle then removed willows, slowing the return of beavers.
Beavers definitely proved their worth during this past, dry summer. In spots, beaver ponds held the only water along miles of stream, making it available for wildlife and livestock and protecting populations of native trout.
Carol feels a strong beaver presence may help reduce future damage due to climate change.
Well said! Your discussion of hydrological effects of beavers is spot ON. And the inference to climate change. Heidi feels that Carol is an unmet friend who should be invited to the beaver conference. So Heidi looked up her address and wrote her yesterday. All in all, its pretty great news from a pretty unlikely place.
Are you full yet? Surfeited on good beaver news from totally different places? There’s always room for dessert. Let’s try a third article, shall we?
MidCoast Watersheds Council Executive Director Wayne Hoffman told his member agencies Thursday night that beavers have been getting a bad rap lately and that their dams and ponds have been disappearing from Oregon woods for a long time. Hoffman said it’s time for Oregonians to re-examine the beavers’ contribution to the environment and to the salmon spawning especially.
Hoffman said although beavers are disliked because they sometimes cause road washouts, ruin fruit trees and generally can be a first class nuisance, they none-the-less contribute a great deal to Oregon fisheries and the health of Oregon’s creeks and streams. Hoffman says that beaver ponds and dams help to balance out creek and river flows by holding back water surges during storms while always letting a steady stream of water through their dams. Hoffman says their dams and ponds regulate water flows very efficiently, especially in the summer, when rivers would otherwise be down to a trickle in some areas. In so doing they keep the average groundwater table higher which keeps creek and riverside vegetation healthy, which is good for wildlife and for salmon. And by better regulating stream flows downstream, waters stay cooler which is also good for salmon. Beaver dams also trap and hold nutrients in the water longer for better distribution down stream which also benefits all wildlife.
You’ll understand my confusion yesterday. I was sure I had died and gone to heaven. I have never heard so much beaver gospel in one day and it made me a little weepy. Sometimes you feel like a voice alone, shouting into the wilderness, with barely anyone listening.
And sometimes you realize your part of a growing environmental militia.
And finally, Hoffman strongly endorsed a strong public information campaign aimed at rural property owners who, he said, should appreciate beavers rather than hate them – that living cooperatively with beavers and smartly managing them is in the best interest of the environment and for healthier salmon runs. Hoffman says young salmon that have been raised in and around beaver ponds grow bigger, in greater numbers and are better able to survive as they make their way down stream to the ocean. And because of their larger size and strength they’re better equipped to survive predation at sea.
Hoffman’s presentation in Newport Thursday evening was but one in a number of “beaver status” lectures he’s giving up and down the Oregon Coast to watershed management and environmental protection groups.
What a day! Great, great work comes in threes. Looks like you guys got this covered. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ll just be over working at the day job if you need me.