Beaver Mediated Restoration and Management in Riverscapes

Symposium
ROOM: RSCC, A19
SESSION NUMBER: 8128
 
Riverscapes are highly productive, biodiverse, and provide many ecosystem services. For many decades, to restore degraded streams, practitioners have relied heavily on highly engineered and often expensive approaches. While sometimes appropriate, their cost cannot effectively address the massive scale of stream degradation. Interest is growing in partnering with beaver (Castor canadensis, and Castor fiber) as a cost-effective and sustainable approach to restoring riverscapes and their ecosystems services. Multiple beaver restoration strategies, from conservation, translocation, to dam mimicry have proven effective at stimulating many of the beneficial effects of beaver dam building activities. As ecosystem engineer, beavers modify hydrological connectivity, sediment transport, channel morphology, floodplains, nutrient cycling, and riparian vegetation producing ecosystems services such as resilience to drought and fire, flood control, water storage, water quality benefits, and increased livestock forage. And because beavers blur the line between aquatic and terrestrial systems, habitat improvement projects target a broad range of species including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and wildlife. In this symposium, we will summarize the processes by which beavers modify riverscapes, provide case studies where restoration and management of beaver are used to improve aquatic and terrestrial habitats as a means of species conservation and recovery, and boost ecosystem services.

8:00AM Beaver-Related Management and Restoration: An Introduction
  Nicolaas Bouwes, Raymond Dueser
Given the scale of riverscape degradation, we must use more efficient approaches to restore these disproportionally important watershed features with the limited funds that are available. Promoting or translocating beaver or mimicking beaver with beaver dam analogs (BDAs) are becoming a common cost-effective approaches to stream restoration. The diversity of project goals and objectives continues to grow with habitat improvement projects targeting a broad range of species including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and wildlife as well as producing ecosystems services such as resilience to drought and fire, flood control, water storage, water quality benefits, and increased livestock forage. Additionally, several studies are providing the scientific support for how beavers modify stream environments and achieving project objectives. However, like other stream restoration approaches, a better understanding of the mechanisms of how dams affect processes will increase our ability to extrapolate to locations most likely to succeed. We provide an overview of the different beaver-related management and restoration strategies, some of the benefits they provide, and examples of projects currently using these approaches.
8:20AM Low-Tech Process-Based Restoration to Treat Structurally Starved Streams – What Is It and Why Do We Need To Do a Lot More of It?
  Stephen Bennett, Joe Wheaton, Scott Shahverdian, Nicolaas Bouwes
To address the scope of degraded streams throughout the western United States we need alternative restoration approaches that are much more efficient (much greater extents for a given cost) than traditional approaches. A common impairment is structural starvation (e.g., loss of beaver dams and large woody debris). We summarize recommendations from a manual we recently published (http://lowtechpbr.restoration.usu.edu/manual/) detailing a restoration approach to address structural starvation to improve the form and function of riverscapes. We give examples of how we use beaver dam analogs (BDAs) and simple woody debris structures to promote beaver activity and increase wood accumulations to improve channel complexity, floodplain connectivity, and riparian function. We call this approach “Low-tech process-based” restoration where the emphasis moves away from highly engineered approaches of creating static channels to adding simple structures that promote processes that will maintain streams in a state of dynamic equilibrium to achieve properly functioning stream ecosystems. We review principles of this restoration approach to assist practitioners and funders to understand and implement this method to maximal effect. This approach has been evaluated in two Intensively Monitored Watershed projects (Asotin and Bridge Creek IMWs) and shows great promise for both restoring stream processes and increasing fish production.
8:40AM Managing Expectations of Beaver-Related Restoration in Rangeland Streams
  David Pilliod, Caroline Nash, Jimmy Taylor, Susan Charnley, Jason Dunham, Mark Hausner, Hannah Gosnell, Gordon Grant
The increasing threat of drought is a socioeconomic and ecological problem for US rangelands that needs pragmatic solutions. The urgency of this issue has fostered partnerships between private landowners and public natural resource managers to find solutions. The use of translocated North American beaver (Castor canadensis) to increase surface water in arid landscapes is one pre-emptive measure that is gaining interest because of the remarkable ability of beavers to impound water. In places where there is insufficient food and dam-building materials for beavers, some landowners and managers are installing artificial structures with the intention of mimicking effects of beaver dams. These approaches are being implemented at a rapid pace and yet the potential social, ecological, hydrological, and geomorphological effects of these practices vary by location and their outcomes are often uncertain. I present data on this rapid pace of implementation and discuss the state of knowledge and uncertainty associated with beaver translocations and various instream structures. I also describe the need for improved post-restoration monitoring through new technological advances, such as eDNA and remote sensing. Communicating the state of the science and levels of uncertainty to stakeholders is an important first step in managing expectations of beaver-related restoration.
9:00AM Oregon Beaver Relocation Requirements
  Derek Broman, Tom Stahl
Beaver are well-known for their ability to modify ecosystems and create habitat for a variety of species, including federally listed (ESA) fish. In 2012, public interest in beaver relocation efforts prompted the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop relocation procedures for public use and were updated in 2017 to address questions and incorporate new information. Like most wildlife, it is illegal for the public to capture, hold, transport, or release beavers without Department authorization. Therefore, this process is required to obtain necessary permit(s) and ensure sound wildlife management practices are upheld. Regardless the relocation intent, the Department prioritizes animal welfare and wants to avoid situations where relocation will not be successful or will create conflict with humans or other beaver. Therefore the Department has identified many important considerations for relocation that include handling, survival, persistence, disease, habitat modification, and population impacts. As such, these requirements contain recommendations for improving the chances that relocated beaver will survive and colonize the new location. This presentation will elaborate on these requirements and how they were crafted using public input, policy, law, and science. These requirements can serve as a model for other agencies looking to allow or facilitate beaver relocation.
9:20AM What to Expect from Beaver in Beaver-Related Restoration
  Jimmy Taylor, Vanessa Petro
American beaver (Castor canadensis) are known for their ability to modify wetland and riparian habitat through construction, although not all beaver express this behavior. With access to food, escape from predators, and access to lodging (traditional lodges or bank dens), dam-building may not be necessary for survival. Thus, beaver thrive in lakes, ponds, rivers and streams too wide and powerful to dam. Models to predict suitable beaver habitat or suitable dam sites are generally based on presence-absence or presence-pseudo absence. These models also fail to account for the value of beaver in interstitial spaces of the landscape where dams are not necessary. Beaver are “choosy” generalists, territorial, with defined social organization and the ability to move great distances. Growing concern to utilize beaver as natural restoration tools may fail to account for what is best for beaver fitness by placing anthropogenic expectations first. Restoration goals also fail to establish and quantify measures of success, or when success is exceeded (i.e., human-wildlife conflict). We present results from beaver research and offer recommendations for practitioners interested in beaver-related restoration.
09:40AM Break
1:10PM Idaho Case Study: Rock Creek Ranch, an Example of Collaborative Restoration and Management
  Trisha Cracroft
Idaho has a long history of working collaboratively with landowners and partners to get conservation on the ground. One example is the 10,400-acre Rinker Rock Creek Ranch (Rock Creek) which is owned by the University of Idaho and cooperatively managed by Wood River Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy. Rock Creek provides a unique opportunity to research the implementation of conservation activities that focuses on hydrology, wildlife habitat and the impacts of grazing. Presenters will discuss several restoration techniques, the reality of operating a working ranch with beaver, and collaborative partnership that makes implementing conservation the ground a success. This presentation will highlight the past and present collective management and research efforts with a focus on restoring hydrology through traditional streambank protection and other alternative techniques such of post assisted log structures and beaver dam analogs.
1:30PM Riparian Resilience in the Face of Interacting Disturbances: Wildfire, Erosion and Beaver (Castor canadensis) in Grazed Riparian Systems of the Western United States.
  Alexa Whipple
Riparian systems of the dryland west provide critical ecosystem functions including diverse habitat for numerous species, flood attenuation and water storage in water-limited environments. These systems have experienced long term disturbance from anthropogenic activities including agriculture, mining, timber harvest, flow regulation and near extirpation of a keystone riparian species, beaver. However, increasing frequency of large-scale wildfires and climate change driven weather is altering the severity and scale of riparian disturbance. Beaver restoration has been gaining use to address long term riparian disturbances, yet little is understood regarding the impact of restored beaver activity on recently burned riparian systems. Our objective was to determine interactions between beaver populations, large-scale wildfire and subsequent erosion events in riparian systems of the Methow River watershed, north central Washington. A fully factorial study comparing vegetation, water quality and channel morphology in burned and not- burned stream reaches, with beaver presence and without, was conducted in 2018. Our research indicates increased vegetation diversity, decreased nutrient transport and greater connectivity between stream and floodplain in beaver occupied, burned riparian systems. By studying interacting variables of fire, erosion and beaver activity in grazed riparian systems, more effective and sustainable approaches to riparian and river restoration may emerge.
1:50PM Putting Beavers to Work in Alberta, Canada
  Holly Kinas, Danah Duke
Perspectives from a non-profit, environmental applied research institute on how beaver power is being harnessed in Alberta, Canada to aid in watershed resiliency and restoration across the landscape. Conservation of our studious national animal allows for landowners and municipalities to receive the benefits beavers have on our landscape. The benefits of beavers are beginning to be recognized in Alberta, and people are willing to coexist with the sometimes ‘challenging and ambitious’ ecosystem engineer, as shown by a province-wide beaver survey conducted in 2016. The results of this survey will be presented, along with a description of the other research Miistakis is undertaking on our collaborative beaver project with the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society. Highlights include the introduction of Beaver Dam Analogue use in Alberta (not widely utilized in Alberta), 2019 Alberta Beaver Symposium, creation of targeted beaver awareness materials (Beaver Coexistence Tools videos, fact sheet; fact sheet on the relationship of Beavers and Fish), creation of a community of practice and tracking of lessons learned through a knowledge transfer template. Much of our work is grounded in the literature of many American states who have pioneered a trail of coexistence and allowed for harnessing of the power of beavers.
2:10PM An Alberta Perspective: Beavers, Our Watershed Partner – a Community Engagement Initiative
  Kerri O’Shaughnessy, Kathryn Hull, Norine Ambrose
There is a changing tide of opinion around beavers in Alberta, Canada. Much maligned as a pesky rodent, recent pivotal studies on beavers and ecosystem services suggest it is time we rethink our perception of our national animal. Since 2012, The Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society (Cows and Fish) has partnered with the Miistakis Institute and multiple project sponsors to improve beaver co-existence. We aim to increase knowledge about beavers while creating hands-on management tools and learning opportunities. Our presentations, workshops, digital stories and beaver extension materials showcase the many benefits of beavers for improved water quality, increased drought and flood resiliency and for maintenance or restoration of healthy riparian landscapes. We also showcase practical and sustainable beaver co-existence tools (e.g., culvert protectors, pond-levellers etc.) to tackle common challenges like flooding from beaver dams, plugged culverts and felled trees. Our project provides a platform to share knowledge and expertise from other jurisdictions. It also connects Albertans with a common interest in beavers. Our hope with this project is to create opportunities for scientifically informed, watershed scale and community-based solutions to beaver management in Alberta.
2:30PM Beaver Activity Alters Ecosystem Function and Macroinvertebrate Communities in a Degraded Stream Ecosystem
  Melody Feden, Howard Whiteman
Beavers can shape freshwater ecosystems by creating dams which raise the water table, decrease stream velocity, and form ponds that widen the riparian zone. Even though their role as an ecosystem engineer is widely accepted, there are still major gaps in terms of how beavers affect ecosystem functions such as temperature, primary production, and decomposition, especially in various ecosystems. Furthermore, it is unclear how changes to these ecosystem functions influence macroinvertebrate community structure, which may have cascading ecological effects. Understanding how beaver activity affects ecosystem function and community structure is important to evaluate their effectiveness as agents of restoration. We hypothesized that beaver activity would increase primary production and decrease leaf litter decomposition, altering available energy sources and subsequently causing shifts in biomass and diversity of the macroinvertebrate community. We sampled Kimball Creek, a degraded stream in western Colorado, using paired samples in beaver ponds and riffle habitats, and using standard methods to sample water temperature and chemistry, algal production, decomposition, and macroinvertebrate abundance, diversity, biomass, and emergence Our results suggest that beaver ponds increase aquatic habitat and create areas of cold water refugia. Macroinvertebrate results indicate a lower diversity and biomass in beaver ponds.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Can Beavers Mitigate Non-Point Source Pollution?
  Deni Murray, Bethany Neilson, Janice Brahney, Nicolaas Bouwes
Non-point source (NPS) pollution remains high in many watersheds despite strategies aimed at reducing nutrient pollution. One solution for mitigating NPS pollution in mountain streams is via beaver (Castor canadensis) dams. Beaver activity converts lotic systems to semi-lentic, altering the fate of nutrients in streams by impounding stream flow and trapping sediments, which have a high affinity for nutrients and most pollutants. To account for pond and stream meso-habitat variability, we sampled distinct geomorphic units of three beaver ponds and adjacent upstream and downstream free-flowing reaches in three headwater streams. From water column and surface-sediment samples we quantified dissolved and particulate phosphorous and nitrogen concentrations and from sediment cores we measured the total and organic fraction of EPA-regulated heavy metals. Results from sediment cores indicate beaver pond meso-habitats with higher organic-rich sediment contained 4-7 times more total heavy metals than organic-poor counterparts. Pond maintenance and stream discharge may determine whether ponds are a nutrient source or sink; two low-flow actively maintained ponds act as a significant sink, or neutral, compared to a high-flow abandoned pond, which exported dissolved nitrogen and phosphorous. Within the ponds, areas with deeper impounded sediment displayed higher dissolved nutrient concentrations than shallower counterparts.
3:40PM Temperature and Hydrological Impacts of Beaver-Based Stream Restoration: Hypotheses, Models and Data.
  Chris E. Jordan, Carol J. Volk, Joe Wheaton, Nicolaas Bouwes
Restoring natural hydrological and transport processes is a fundamental objective of beaver-based stream restoration practice. Returning a simplified stream reach state to a beaver dominated state means that the hydrological dynamics of a simplified, pre-restoration reach are altered to dramatically increase lateral and vertical connectivity. That is, groundwater elevation and extent and hyporheic exchange are greater post-restoration. From 2006 to 2017 we monitored water table elevation and temperature in two groundwater well fields on Bridge Creek, an incised tributary to the John Day River in northeastern, OR. In 2009, beaver dam analog (BDA) structures were installed to increase the number and lifespan of beaver dams adjacent to one well field, while the reach in the second well field remained untreated. Post-restoration monitoring measured large increases in surface water extent and water table elevation at the treated site relative to the untreated site. In addition, groundwater and surface water temperature patterns became more similar, a function of increased hyporheic exchange, post restoration relative to the pre-restoration conditions. The time-history of these changes also supports our application of a process based conceptual framework in that the post-restoration changes occurred rapidly, but then stabilized, indicating a state transition of the treated stream reach.
4:00PM Predicting the Distribution of Beaver Damming in the Umpqua River Watershed, Oregon
  John Stevenson, Jimmy Taylor, Jason Dunham
Damming activity by American beaver (Castor canadensis) has been associated with a number of ecosystems services that land managers have sought to capture and use to restore degraded stream systems. In Oregon, significant investments have been made to rebuild Threatened Oregon Coast Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) populations and there has been growing interest in using beaver assisted restoration to continue this work. To support these efforts, we have worked with land managers to conduct field surveys that document both damming and non-damming (e.g. clippings, slides, bank dens) beaver activity across the Umpqua River Basin, Oregon (12,103 km2), the second largest coastal river in the state. Using these data, along with data from aquatic inventory surveys by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife over the past 20 years, we present a resource selection function that provides probabilistic estimates of beaver dams across the stream network. This work builds on existing habitat suitability indexes, and tools such as the Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool (BRAT), by evaluating stream geomorphology but also considering assumptions of population limitations based on observations of non-damming activity or variability in annual precipitation and runoff made possible by repeated observations over multiple decades.
4:20PM Discussion
 

 
Organizers: Raymond Dueser, Nicolaas Bouwes
 
Supported by: TWS Wildlife and Habitat Restoration Working Group (WHRWG); AFS Fish Habitat Section

Symposium
Location: Reno-Sparks CC Date: September 30, 2019 Time: 8:00 am - 5:00 pm