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Beavers: Mother Nature’s First River Restoration Engineers

Until recently, the role of beavers in maintaining healthy river ecosystems was not well understood or appreciated. Not everyone wants beaver dams in their backyard! But the same things beavers do naturally—cut down trees, dam up water, flood riverbanks—are exactly what we are trying to do to improve habitat for Pacific salmon.

That’s why beaver reintroduction is identified as a priority action in the Upper Columbia Spring Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Plan. The Methow Valley Beaver Reintroduction Project is relocating them from places where they are unwanted, and moving them to places where beavers can be part of the solution to salmon recovery.

The project is restoring wetland and riparian habitat by relocating “nuisance” beavers to four creeks within the Methow watershed in the Upper Columbia River Basin in Eastern Washington. As part of their natural behavior, beavers add wood to streams, create natural dams, and reconnect streams with their floodplains. These are the very same objectives of many river restoration projects.

This ten-year project aims to establish 50 new beaver colonies within the Methow watershed. So far, twelve new beaver colonies have been established and an additional eight more are being monitored to determine their long-term viability. The project has restored more than 44 acres of wetland habitat at a fraction of the cost of typical construction-based restoration. Over time, the acres of restored habitat will continue to expand, as the watershed processes created by the beavers’ hard work improves wetland, stream, and riparian habitat both upstream and downstream of the relocation sites. Over the long-term, we anticipate that this project will improve more than 1,000 acres of habitat.

You can view a video about the project here.

Posted April 15, 2013

Large beaver lodge in the Methow watershed in Oregon where beavers were reintroduced three years ago. The pond was created by the beavers by building a low dam across the stream and wetland.