The Beaver Chronicles
Spending time in the Colville National Forest (CNF) is always enjoyable: fantastic vistas, the intoxicating smell of pines, firs, and cedars, and the changing colors of larch and aspen never fail to captivate me. But being in the forest enroute to a beaver relocation is even more enjoyable. Just as with the past two years, Joe Cannon and I found ourselves in the Colville National Forest quite often in August and September as we busied ourselves with beaver relocations.
We kicked off the season by taking a lonesome beaver from Addy up to private property near Wauconda. This property belongs to Joel Kretz, the Washington Representative who worked closely with The Lands Council to sponsor what has been dubbed "The Beaver Bill." Readers may recall that the bill passed earlier this year and will facilitate better beaver management in Washington State. It was gratifying to have worked with Kretz over the past year, and in the end bring him a beaver that will hopefully go to work storing water and creating wetlands.
Next up we took a pair of beavers from Lake Ellen in the CNF to another site in the CNF, near Mill Creek. This site had some of the most abundant aspen stands we've seen, so these beavers should have no cause for complaint. While we were up there, we spent some time hiking along Deadman Creek, near Hoodoo Canyon, where we had released a family of beavers the year before. Lo and behold, a new beaver dam and fresh beaver activity awaited us, about 2 miles upstream from the initial relocation site. Way to go, beavers!
Here's where things got really hectic: for the first time in our trapping careers, we decided to trap two beaver families simultaneously. We have a main holding facility in Joe's backyard, along with some back-up pens that we use for any remote trapping. Five beavers from Mead lived in the main holding facility while we spread a family of beavers from Cheney in two other pens. At one point, we had 14 beavers in Joe's backyard! The five beavers from Mead went up to the CNF, but we employed a new strategy with the others. While we usually relocate whole families of beaver together, the landowners didn't want to see all their backyard beavers gone.
We trapped nine total and identified which ones were the sub-adults who would soon be leaving the colony either way. Once a beaver turns two, it has the life skills necessary to survive on its own and at this age often disperses from the rest of the colony. We had three sub-adults in the bunch, and decided to take them to the CNF, but release the rest of the family back to their original home near Cheney.
Adding to the 7 relocations, 45 beavers total, from the past two years, we are now up to 11 relocations, 56 beavers total! It's great to know that many of these beavers have built wetlands and are actively maintaining them throughout Eastern Washington, which is of course the end goal of our project: more wetlands and more water storage. As September draws to a close, so does relocation season. But that doesn't mean we won't be busy. Part of requirements of the Beaver Bill is for Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to host a beaver stakeholders' forum later this year. As the dominant managers of our water resources, we feel it's time that we treat this animal with the care and respect it deserves and develop a strategic plan to manage and enhance their populations. Are you with me?
After completing another beaver family relocation last August, we prepared to do our final trapping of the year. But it appeared that news of beavers' environmental benefits had spread, and all the landowners who called us earlier in the year complaining of beaver had decided to live with the critters after all. So we hung our traps up for the year, bringing our grand total to 7 families, 45 beavers in all, live-trapped and relocated by Team Beaver.
Over winter we set our eyes on a different goal: statewide beaver policy. At a time when more and more natural resource professionals recognize the benefits of beaver as ecosystem engineers, our governmental policies deserve to reflect that knowledge and encourage the preservation of the species. With tremendous help from our Board Member and lobbyist, Neil Beaver (yes, you read correctly), we worked with Washington State Representatives and Senators and in January a new piece of legislation was passed that will improve communication and record-keeping between agencies, and thus improve beaver management throughout the state.
And now, to pose a question to the audience, are you or anyone you know interested in getting a family of beavers on your property? We are actively seeking sites for beaver relocations, which will begin in August 2012. If you are interested or have further questions, please contact Joe Cannon, (509) 209–2402.
The 2011 field season for the Lands Council Beaver Project is in full swing. The beaver team started out by setting up vegetation and beaver impact monitoring procedures at sites where we are putting beaver or doing studies. We also followed up on sites from last year, and confirmed that most of last years relocated beavers are still in place and active! We are still enhancing methods to measure magnitude and a timeframe to beaver-based watershed restoration. Our studies will help establish predictability to beaver activity attributed to our relocations and other restoration activities. A summer intern, Michele Larson, has been helping Joe and Amanda with data collection and habitat monitoring.
Most recently the beaver team has trapped and relocated a family of four (July) and a family of seven (August) "nuisance" beavers to suitable habitat in the Colville National Forest. The total count including last years beavers is up to 39 beavers in 6 family units! These were all moved from areas where they are causing property damage to where they can build wetlands and ecosystem services. In the process we have been taking larger steps toward building relationships and collaborations with state agencies and stakeholders to form a statewide beaver management policy. With each success we move a little closer.
We have at least two more relocations scheduled for this year, as well as more habitat monitoring. Additionally, we hope to get through the permitting process of installing beaver proofing mechanisms- such as "Beaver Deceivers" and other flow control devices. So stay tuned for the next chapter, and the second half of our field season!
The Lands Council's Beaver Project has made some amazing strides since the last edition of The Beaver Chronicles. After our initial monitoring and equipment purchases in the summer, Team Beaver, including Joe Cannon, Kat Hall, and Amanda Parrish, went to work trapping and relocating nuisance beaver to their new, carefully-chosen environments.
Because beaver mate for life and maintain a strong family unit, a critical part of relocation success lies in trapping the entire family and releasing all members at once. Team Beaver worked tirelessly through weekends and holidays to ensure that entire families of nuisance beaver were trapped in a timely manner. Family members were placed in a temporary holding facility in Amanda's backyard until the entire family was captured, where they had a faux lodge, a freshwater trough, plenty of cottonwood, and some plush granite flooring! Caring for these critters in such close proximity re-defined our definition of cute; these sensitive, social rodents are gentle, playful, and protective of their kin. Talk about family values!
We live-trapped a total of 28 beaver from four separate families in only a month. These beaver went to four different relocation sites outside of Republic, Chewelah, Newport, and Valley, WA. Of these families, two are already maintaining dams and lodges near the release locations while the other two are most likely at work further upstream. In addition to these four relocation sites, Team Beaver has also begun monitoring vegetation and water quality at two sites where beaver colonies are already present but have not begun dam building. With these six sites under our belt, the Beaver Project has surpassed its 2010 goals!
We will continue monitoring all sites to gather data on the ecosystem effects of beaver dams. We've already begun scouting relocation sites for 2011, when we expect to relocate another five nuisance beaver families. Stay tuned to see how the environmental community reacts to our research when Joe and Amanda present at the annual State of the Beaver Conference, held in Canyonville, OR this February…
Thanks to financial support from the Department of Ecology, SeaWorld, the Anderson-Rogers Foundation, the Kenney Brothers Foundation, Patagonia, Inc. and the Royal Bank of Canada, the Beaver Solution has been making some real progress! Last month, we purchased equipment that will allow us to monitor water quality, water quantity, and vegetation; and now the fun has begun. We've started this monitoring at each of our four sites, located in Mead, Republic, the Colville National Forest, and the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge. The measurements-including water quality parameters like pH and temperature, as well as water volume and existing vegetation-are important to show the conditions at each site prior to beaver re-introduction. We will continue all these measurements following re-introduction to see how beaver have had an effect.
In addition, we've contracted with a local driller to install groundwater monitoring wells, known as "piezometers," at two of our sites. Beaver dams "pool" water behind them, allowing more water to be stored underground; yet few people have been able to quantify that effect. We hope to add a piece to this puzzle by monitoring groundwater levels before and after beaver re-introduction.
Finally, our relocation permits were approved last month by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This is huge news! Team Beaver is now authorized to live-trap and relocate throughout the state. Stay tuned to hear how we're working with local trappers and other beaver restoration groups to make this happen!
Team Beaver in Action!