PUTTING BEAVERS TO WORKCategory: 2014, Collective Impact Grant, Completed, Land Use, Water
Cows & Fish, Miistakis Insitute, Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Society
One of the most profound impacts of climate change is greater variability in weather. For many landscapes, the trend is towards warmer and drier conditions and it may mean more violent storms that dump massive amounts of rain in a short time as was seen during the 2013 catastrophic southern Alberta floods. Natural tools can be used to improve ecosystem resiliency and help mitigate the impact of the increased variability in weather.
What natural tool are we talking about? Beavers! Many natural and services and benefits are provided by these original engineers. Beaver dams store water, increasing the amount of stored water in a watershed by nearly 10% and the amount of groundwater recharge by significantly more. Downstream flows are increased from two to 10 times as compared to streams without beavers. Stored groundwater is delivered throughout the season, helping fish survive, maintaining wildlife habitat, and providing essential drinking water. Beaver dams function as speed bumps for streams, slowing down fast moving water. An array of beaver dams and ponds can delay and reduce the flood peak by dissipating energy, damping the flood and reducing the negative downstream impacts. More beaver dams and ponds increase the landscape’s ability to capture and tame flood flows, mitigate droughts and better manage risk to our landscapes. Integrating beavers into our future flood, drought, and landscape management planning can reduce costs and impacts and add substantially to benefit downstream water resources.
The challenge is current beaver populations are a fraction of historical numbers and beavers are not widely accepted or appreciated by landowners and land managers. Population recovery is slow, partly because we have not fully understood and appreciated the many services provided by beavers and the benefits for us. Reintroducing beavers would start to bolster the beaver population and realize the resiliency benefits afforded by our national treasure.
Using a multifaceted approach, the three organizations involved in this project – and the ALCES group – will determine suitable habitats for beaver reintroduction, match nuisance beavers with landowners who want them, work to remove policy and regulatory barriers to beaver management, and monitor the impacts and improvements in environmental health as a result of their work. Increased beaver tolerance, including more awareness and population recovery, will improve watershed resiliency and benefit us all in floods, droughts, and climatic extremes.