Taking Collaboration to the Next Level: Putting Beavers to Work

We are already experiencing many impacts related to climate change. This includes rapidly changing weather conditions, rising temperatures, droughts, and altered water regimes.  In June of 2013, Alberta received a glimpse at what a changing climate in the future may look like. The floods of 2013 were a major flood event, destined to wreak havoc in any scenario, but they were also exacerbated by a decreased ability of our landscape to hold and store water. Under this new reality, it is becoming imperative to capture and store water effectively, both for the safety of our communities and the health of our ecosystems.

As a watershed stewardship tool, beavers can help mitigate the impact of climate change and restore resiliency to our watersheds.  Almost three years ago, several environmental nonprofits initiated a bold new project: Reintroducing beavers to the landscape in Alberta.  These organizations, the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Society, the Miistakis Institute, and Cows and Fish, believe beavers can be a key agent in restoring some of the integrity to our hydrological systems.

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 increase from two to 10 times as compared to streams without beavers. Delivered throughout the season, stored groundwater can help fish survive, maintain wildlife habitat, and provide essential drinking water. Beaver dams also 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.

The challenge is current beaver populations are a fraction of historical numbers. Often treated as a nuisance, 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. Recovery is also slow because beavers can cause damage to buildings, roads and other infrastructure. This project will aim to test and promote various coexistence actions.Reintroducing beavers, and reducing their negative impacts, can start to bolster the population and realize the benefits afforded by our national treasure.

In 2012, this unique collaboration successfully introduced three beavers at the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area. This reintroduction piqued great interest from landowners and managers about co-existence with beavers. As a result, the project team created and delivered workshops across Alberta. These workshops focused on beaver natural history, co-existence, and reintroduction.

Building upon this interest, this group of organizations is now expanding their collaboration.  Their goal is to create a much larger impact on watersheds across Alberta.

The ALCES Group, along with University of Augustana biologist Dr. Glynnis Hood, have joined the original three collaborators. Dr. Hood is one of Canada’s foremost authorities on wetland ecology and beavers. ALCES has included beaver related features in numerous past ecosystem modelling initiatives. These models explore beaver influence on biodiversity, water flows, flood and drought abatement, water quality and riparian habitat.

Together, this collective will develop a habitat suitability index to identify areas which can benefit from beaver reintroduction. They will also be able to measure hydrological responses to beavers over time. This data will establish the benefits of beaver to society versus the costs of beaver management and relocation effort. Demonstrating this is paramount for the success of beaver reintroduction in Alberta.

Setting up a “beaver matching” system, this group is working to pair unwanted beavers with receptive landowners in appropriate lands. Finally, they are going to use successful reintroductions, alongside the data gathered from hydrological response, to work towards policy and regulation changes. Changing policy regarding beaver management can amplify the impact of the project, allowing beavers to thrive across our province.

Beavers are more than icons in Canada, they are integral to landscape health and function.  These original engineers provide many natural services and benefits.  We need beaver tolerance, awareness and population recovery, along with policy, to encourage watershed resiliency. This will benefit all Albertans in floods, droughts and climatic extremes. Alberta Ecotrust is excited to support this post-flood wave of interest in beavers and engage Albertans in understanding their true value.

Project Update – May 2015

The Putting Beavers to Work collective impact project has focused  efforts on modelling beaver habitat in Alberta in order to fully understand the benefits that could be realized by putting beavers back to work on our landscapes. The project also sent two staff to the “State of the Beaver 2015” conference in Canyonville, Oregon to learn the latest about using beavers for watershed restoration. Additionally, the project has produced two reports. The first takes an in-depth look at five American states that have used beavers to adapt to climate change, deal with drought and restore endangered species. The second report, written by University of Alberta – Augustana student Erin Specht, provides a detailed look at the policy and regulatory context for beaver relocation in Alberta. Finally, the project team has been investing energy into securing more funds for our project.

Report: Beaver Restoration Across Boundaries

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  • Kelsey Cartwright

    Could you please send me the papers with the findings for: “increasing the amount of stored water in a watershed by nearly 10% and the amount of groundwater recharge by significantly more. Downstream flows increase from two to 10 times as compared to streams without beavers” ? I would love to cite them in a project I am working on!

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