Survey of Beaver-related Restoration Practices in Rangeland Streams of the Western USA

Abstract

Poor condition of many streams and concerns about future droughts in the arid and semi-arid western USA have motivated novel restoration strategies aimed at accelerating recovery and increasing water resources. Translocation of beavers into formerly occupied habitats, restoration activities encouraging beaver recolonization, and instream structures mimicking the effects of beaver dams are restoration alternatives that have recently gained popularity because of their potential socioeconomic and ecological benefits. However, beaver dams and dam-like structures also harbor a history of social conflict. Hence, we identified a need to assess the use of beaver-related restoration projects in western rangelands to increase awareness and accountability, and identify gaps in scientific knowledge. We inventoried 97 projects implemented by 32 organizations, most in the last 10 years. We found that beaver-related stream restoration projects undertaken mostly involved the relocation of nuisance beavers. The most common goal was to store water, either with beaver dams or artificial structures. Beavers were often moved without regard to genetics, disease, or potential conflicts with nearby landowners. Few projects included post-implementation monitoring or planned for longer term issues, such as what happens when beavers abandon a site or when beaver dams or structures breach. Human dimensions were rarely considered and water rights and other issues were mostly unresolved or addressed through ad-hoc agreements. We conclude that the practice and implementation of beaver-related restoration has outpaced research on its efficacy and best practices. Further scientific research is necessary, especially research that informs the establishment of clear guidelines for best practices.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the U.S. Department of the Interior Northwest Climate Science Center and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Northwest Climate Hub. We thank the many individuals who graciously shared information about their beaver-related restoration projects with us. Pedro Marques and James Munger provided photographs for Figures 3B and 4, respectively. The manuscript was improved thanks to helpful comments from Jimmy Taylor (ARS), Christopher Pearl (USGS), and four anonymous reviewers. Justin Welty assisted with mapping and database design. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to David S. Pilliod.

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Pilliod, D.S., Rohde, A.T., Charnley, S. et al. Survey of Beaver-related Restoration Practices in Rangeland Streams of the Western USA. Environmental Management 61, 58–68 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-017-0957-6

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Keywords

  • Beaver dam analog
  • Castor canadensis
  • Check-dam
  • Incised stream
  • Water
  • Wildlife