Current research predicts that climate change will severely alter precipitation and temperature patterns in the Pacific Northwest by midcentury, resulting in both more flood events and drought in forested ecosystems. On the Clackamas watershed specifically, river flow has already shifted to greater rain-driven flows and less snow-melt driven flows. This combined with less summertime flow is a significant concern for both drinking water and salmon habitat. These changes are projected to be most prominent in the highest elevation watersheds, where flows are currently most dependent on winter snow accumulation. By working proactively to defend and restore the natural processes of the forest ecosystem, we can mitigate the local impacts of climate change on Mt. Hood’s watersheds.
Our state animal, university mascot, and ecological engineer extraordinaire is forced to sit on the sidelines during these challenging times, since it is valued by some state officials, and less than 170 people in the state, as merely a species to trap and shoot for recreation.
Beaver need protection from hunting and trapping under the state laws and funds must be made available to provide incentives to private landowners to work with beavers to store water, sub-irrigate fields, and create wetlands. This possibility is within reach if Oregon closes these public lands to recreational beaver trapping and hunting. This would allow beaver to begin expanding the abundance of wetlands, ponds, and complex riparian areas, making it an effective climate change response strategy.
Given the scale of degradation within streams and wetlands and throughout the West, we need all partners mobilized to restore these systems. Beaver are incredible allies in strengthening climate resilience! But for this ecosystem engineer to successfully provide resilience against drought & wildfire, they must be able to safely build and maintain their natural infrastructure (dams!) and expand their populations across the state.
How do beavers change their environments?
Whether you live in an urban or rural area, restoring beaver’s role on public lands benefits us all via the water-rich, carbon-storing habitat they create and maintain. As wetlands, ponds, rising water tables and riparian vegetation increase, so does Oregon’s water security, its drought-preparedness, and its fish and wildlife habitat and connectivity. As habitat expands, so does the number of natural firebreaks – these zones of lush green and water serve as safety zones for wildlife and livestock during a fire, and habitat post-fire. And they create conditions that improve salmon rearing habitat and quality throughout their range and temporarily store water to then feed the streams during drought.
What effects do these changes have?
- Erosion Control: Beaver ponds expand riparian (river & stream) vegetation by expanding water available for wetland and riparian plants. This increased vegetation along stream banks protects against erosion leading to better water quality for human use and better habitat for the salmon and steelhead in those streams.
- Improve stream temperatures: Currently ODEQ has thousands of stream miles listed as water quality impaired for temperature. The rise in water tables in beaver dominated meadows results in increased groundwater contributions to streams and ponds. When combined with deeper pond water depths, the result is a decrease in stream temperatures. This decrease can, in some cases, result in the stream or a segment of the stream being delisted.
- Habitat Creation: The ponds and meadows created by beavers enhance habitat for game species like ducks, deer & elk as well as improve migratory bird habitat. Expanded beaver ponds, wetlands, wet meadows and structurally complex and diverse riparian habitat across the state provide increased food sources, habitat resting areas, and rearing areas including snags for cavity nesting species. Benefits threatened, sensitive, and declining species like the Willow Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow and Yellow-breasted Chat.
- Salmon Recovery: The abundance of adromous fish, including salmon and steelhead, has been adversely affected by dams, overharvest, hatchery practices, habitat degradation, and will soon be affected by climate change. The late-run coho salmon Clackamas River along are considered the last remaining viable wild coho population in the Columbia Basin. The changes beavers make to their habitat can aid in salmon recovery in a number of ways:
- Improves Andromonous (migratory) Fish Habitat: Andromonous fish benefit from clean and clear water, deep pools, low water flows, and woody material in water. Beaver presence contributes to all of these factors.
- Improves rearing habitat: Rearing habitat has been identified as a hey limiting factor to salmonid species and beaver ponds have been identified as a key source of rearing habitat. As they provide, adequate food and a protective environment for salmon growth and survival
- Beaver’s effects on the environment are similar to the work that many agencies have done to restore riparian habitats and improve water quality and quantity. Beaver-created restoration is self-maintaing and self-enhancing as beavers continue to be around to repair dam breaches. Using this approach to restoration minimizes spending on the repetitive and reoccurring costs of maintaining restoration efforts so that dollars would be available to focus on species and restoration efforts in areas not influenced by beavers.
Bark is supporting the return of beavers to Mt. Hood in several ways:
- Bark is encouraging the Forest Service to close and decommission unnecessary and ecologically damaging logging roads which could fragment beaver habitat or create future conflicts if deteriorating culverts (drainage tunnels) are instinctively plugged up by beavers attempting to create a new home and to identify & replace undersized road culverts and installing beaver-friendly structures, which prevent unwanted flooding
- Bark’s ongoing, volunteer-powered project with Portland State University and the U.S. Forest Service is to identify & prioritize existing and potential habitat in Mt. Hood National Forest that could support the reintroduction of beaver.
- Volunteers are:
- Updating wetland maps in Mt Hood National Forest.
- Estimating the water capacity of wetlands to understand which wetlands could most benefit from beaver reintroduction
- Restoring distributions of beaver-preferred plant species like willows through informed re-planting in degraded areas (this vegetation is both eaten and used in beaver dam and lodge-building)
- Pushing state wildlife agencies to end lethal removal of “nuisance beavers” in low-lying areas, and instead, making the case for re-location of these animals to areas they previously inhabited on federal forest lands
- Advocating to end the recreational and commercial trapping of beaver on federally managed public lands in Oregon
- Volunteers are:
How can you get involved and staff informed about Bark’s work to restore beaver to Mt. Hood wetlands?
- Learn about Bark’s work in wetlands and beaver habitat in the Clackamas River basin.
- Subscribe to wildlife management updates from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
- Sign up for Bark Alert emails.
- Keep an eye out for Bark’s beaver habitat and wetland survey volunteer trainings and field days.