Researchers in Colorado have built hundreds of dam-like structures in hopes of mimicking a fraction of the success the state’s beavers have had throughout history. Ashley Hom with the U.S. Forest Service co-leads Colorado’s largest beaver-based restoration project — along with many partners. In just two years, this team built 316 beaver mimicry structures, about half of which were BDAs, or beaver dam analogues — manmade structures that imitate beaver dams. Many of them were constructed by volunteers, according to a story by Julie Cleveland.
These BDAs are built using wooden fenceposts and willows that act as a low-cost and low-maintenance structure to protect areas from wildfire while maintaining or improving water quality.
The loss of keystone beaver populations has caused a negative impact on watersheds throughout the western United States. Dams that beavers create slow the flow of spring run-off while raising the water table to keep the landscape wet. Without beavers and their dams, streambanks have eroded, causing snowmelt and run-off to drain too quickly from the landscape.
“As beavers create and maintain wetlands, the outcomes are vast,” Cleveland wrote. “A lack of beavers has resulted in an increased intensity of drought and wildfires in the West as fires spread rapidly across parched landscapes. Wetlands act as natural fuelbreaks, giving firefighters a chance for containment.”
The effectiveness of beavers against wildfires has been seen in real-time. The 2018 Sharp Flats Fire burned more than 60,000 acres in Idaho, but seemingly left one area untouched.
The Sharp Flats Fire burned all of the land around Baugh Creek, but the beavers’ dams and the wetland they created were left unburned.
The contrast was so stark that researchers at Boise State University and Utah State University teamed up with NASA to start building tools to measure the benefits of beaver reintroduction in other areas of the country.
Watch the below video to see what researchers are paying attention to after beavers make their way back to wetlands — beaver rewilding as measured by NASA:
Alert reader Tom Jones sent over some photos he took of the beaver habitat on the B&B Fire in Oregon.
“We were with the NW Oregon type 2 team in September 2003,” wrote Tom. “Robert Alvarado was the Human Resource Specialist (HRSP) and I was the FBAN. Robert liked to go out on the line and talk with the crews to see how they were doing. I went to the line every day, so he would go with me. Each morning after briefing he would ask me, ‘What kind of adventure are we going to have today?’ The last two photos are of me and Robert at Marion Lake.”
from Wikipedia: The B&B Complex was a linked pair of wildfires that together burned 90,769 acres (367.33 km2) in Oregon in the summer of 2003. The complex began as two separate fires, the Bear Butte Fire and the Booth Fire; the two fires were reported on the same day and eventually burned together, forming a single fire area that stretched along the crest of the Cascade Mountains between Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington. On the western side of the Cascades, the fire consumed mostly Douglas-fir and western hemlock. On the eastern side of the mountains, the fire burned mostly Ponderosa pine, lodgepole, and jack pine. Most of the burned area was on USFS land, including 40,419 acres (163.57 km2) within the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. The fire also burned forest land on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and small areas of state and private land. Firefighters worked on the fires for 34 days.
THANKS, Tom, for the great photos and another
piece of Beaver history in the Beaver State!
~ Kelly Andersson