Looks like Wisconsin’s unique trout protection strategy is getting noticed. Yesterday I was sent this great article from the TU president who invited me to speak this year in Coloma. It’s from a beautiful outdoorsy website called “Cutter Light” in Alaska.
This video showing a beaver dam being blasted sky high by Wisconsin Wildlife Services in the name of “improving habitat for trout” left us speechless. We’re interested to know what readers think of this strategy for managing wildlife and natural resources.
Barbra and I watched this video and listened to these comments with our jaws hanging open. Speechless. After about two minutes, the video came to an end.
“Wow,” was all we could manage to articulate at first. And then again, “Wow.”
For the past day, we’ve been researching this issue as thoroughly as we’re able to, reaching out to Trout Unlimited groups in Wisconsin (at least one of which appears to support this management strategy) and kicking our own thoughts around between each other. We haven’t reached any conclusions. But we do have a few observations.
Beaver ponds represent biologically rich, exceptionally diverse, constantly changing micro-habitats within the larger forest.The many snags (dead trees) in this pond represent feeding opportunities for woodpeckers as well as potential cavity nesting sites for many species of birds and mammals. Eventually, this pond will become silted in, the beavers will leave, and a beaver meadow will replace the pond. These meadows, free from the shade of the forest canopy and with a bed of thick, fertile soil create places where unique species of flowers and other plants thrive. Black bears are among the many animals that visit these meadows to graze on the grasses and berries that may not exist elsewhere in the forest. The meadow itself will eventually be replaced by mature hardwood forest. So it has been in North America for thousands and thousands of years, with trout, beavers, bears and berries co-evolving.
Ohhh, I think this is going to get amazing. Pull up a chair and get comfortable. I practically excepted the whole thing. Feel freed to go read it yourself. I’m sure Wisconsin is.
Beaver ponds represent dynamic, ever-changing micro-habitats that foster some of the greatest species diversity in the forests where they are found. We’re for biodiversity. As much as we enjoy trout fishing, we would never wish that our desire to catch a particular species of fish be placed above the overall health of an ecosystem.
During the life of the beaver pond, it can provide vital habitat for all kinds of animals. As trees are drowned, they become snags. (One Wisconsin DNR report stated simply and that “beaver dams kill trees” – an example of how a statement can be both completely true and completely misleading. Dead trees are part of every healthy forest.) Pileated woodpeckers and other woodpeckers utilize these snags as forage bases and nesting sites. The cavities woodpeckers create in turn become nesting sites for flying squirrels, owls, wood ducks, and host of other mammals and birds. Meanwhile, these ponds become important stop-over or seasonal habitat for a variety of waterfowl and often attract shore nesting species. Tree swallows, flycatchers and similar passerines thrive in the edge habitat created by the beavers’ activity. Again, the snags provide nesting sites, and the cleared airspace above the insect-rich pond creates excellent feeding opportunities for insect eating birds as well as for bats.
The pond itself becomes one the most biologically rich systems in the forest – perhaps the most biologically rich. Everything from burrowing mayflies to dragonflies and damselflies to a variety of aquatic beetles inhabit these waters. Amphibians such as newts, salamanders, toads and frogs inhabit these ponds as well, which provide vital nurseries for their young. Aquatic and semi-aquatic snakes take advantage of the smorgasbord, and in turn may provide a meal for a hawk. Deer, moose, turkeys and grouse are among the frequent visitors to the edge habitat found along the shores of these ponds.
Silt prevented by the dam from moving downstream eventually creates a rich bed of mud which in turn fosters the growth of aquatic vegetation. This vegetation may provide a meal for a moose or a migrating duck, a nursery for the young of certain fish species, a place for a tiger salamander to attach its eggs, or an ambush post for a predacious diving beetle. What’s best for trout is not necessarily best for the countless other species that depend on the habitat created by beaver ponds.
Moreover, because these dams cause water to pool, some of that water percolates down into subterranean aquifers. This should be an important consideration in a state that is rapidly pumping its aquifers dry.
It’s important to keep one other fact in mind. Salvalinus fontinalis, the native char most fishermen refer to as the brook trout, has been co-evolving with beavers and beaver dams for longer than humans have been on the North American continent. This sudden need to “manage” wildlife is an outcome of an ongoing series of humankind’s mismanagement of this planet.
Let’s be clear hear, this wasn’t written by ME or Michael Pollock’s mother. Barbara and Jack Donarchy are fairly well known wilderness-living writers, fishermen and photographers. Their blogs gets way more traffic than this old thing, and is followed by countless others. All of whom will now turn in shock to Wisconsin DNR and say in chorus, WTF?
Check out the full page of very supportive comments whose minds were equally blown by the practice. One of this is from John Sikora who was the chapter president that invited me to Trout Unlimited this year. I think if we listen very closely we can hear the rusted shut DNR wheels of change grinding into motion. Maybe they’ll take my advice and experiment with ONE SMALL STREAM this year and see what happens if they let the dams and beavers remain.