"More grass means less forest; more forest less grass. But either-or is a construction more deeply woven into our culture than into nature, where even antagonists depend on one another and the liveliest places are the edges, the in-betweens or both-ands ... Relations are what matter most." — Michael Pollan, "The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Natural History of Four Meals"
The land at Beaver Ponds EEC is a long, gently sloping valley with Sacramento Creek flowing through it. Plant life varies throughout the valley based on elevation, aspect (north- and south-facing slopes) and beaver pond flooding activity.
Forest ecosystems in Colorado can be identified by types based on elevation and location. Beaver Ponds EEC forest ecosystems can be considered both montane and subalpine. Montane ecosystems generally stop at 10,000 feet of elevation (Beaver Ponds is 10,100 feet), and then the subalpine zone begins. However, Beaver Ponds EEC has plant and animal species characteristic of both. The subalpine zone is characterized by heavy forests with cool, damp, mossy forest floors, which receive the heaviest snow accumulation. The montane zone consists of the lower slopes and valleys below the tree line and holds the greatest variety of wildflowers, trees, and shrubs.
Long, cold winters and short cool summers are the norm here. Species native to this area have adapted to these harsh conditions in many ways.
Much of Beaver Ponds EEC is a riparian habitat, which means it lies along the banks of a stream. According to the USDA, “Riparian ecosystems are extremely productive and have diverse habitat values for wildlife. This is demonstrated most visibly in the western United States, where riparian habitat comprises less than 1 percent of the total land area at some time of the year but supports most of the terrestrial wildlife. The linear nature of riparian ecosystems provides distinct corridors that are important as migration and dispersal routes and as forested connectors between habitats for wildlife.”
When we talk about the ecosystem at Beaver Ponds EEC, we consider only a tiny piece of the larger community that makes up the environment in Park County, Colorado, and ultimately, the world. We humans like to break down large things like planetary ecosystems into smaller pieces that make them easier to study and to understand. But any understanding we gain from this piecing out must be tempered by the knowledge that the larger whole will affect our small piece in ways we may or may not be able to understand. The 71 acres of the Beaver Ponds are an "artificial box" that humans have created. Nature ignores this box. All things on the earth are interrelated somehow.
For the purpose of this website, we will focus on the small ecosystem of the Beaver Ponds and consider the plants and animals that make their homes within its boundaries and the other animals that just pass through.
Often, when we are discussing ecosystems, we leave humans out, even though our effects are much greater than any other single species. Although we try to minimize our effects on the Beaver Ponds ecosystem, everything we do here is interrelated with what we normally consider “nature.” Even though we live in houses and tend to be less involved in nature than the wild things around us, we are still part of the natural world.
When we walk around the Beaver Ponds property, we can remind ourselves of the interactions and relationships of all things that live here, each one doing its part to maintain the system's dynamic balance or equilibrium. From the tiniest soil microbe to the bull moose, nothing is static. All things are constantly changing based on the sun, wind, temperature, moisture, and season. But within this constant change is the balance that keeps ecosystems within certain parameters. Change can be gradual or brutally rapid, but nature is generally very resilient and has found ways to adjust to most types of natural disturbance.
Disturbance and Succession
The two linked concepts of disturbance and succession are signs of this resilience within ecosystems. A disturbance may be small, like stepping on an ant hill. The effect is felt mostly by ants and soil microbes.
An example of a larger scale disturbance occurs when our beavers decide to create a new pond. As the water in the new pond begins to flood formerly dry ground, plants, animals, and insects are flooded out and either die or find new homes. Now, new organisms like aquatic plants, beavers, amphibians, and fish have homes there. Then, when the pond is abandoned, another disturbance has occurred, and through a process known as succession, plants begin to populate the former bottom of the pond, which has become rich in organic matter that settled out over the life of the pond. New animals move in to feed on those plants, and so the cycle begins again or a new cycle is created.
The ecology section of our website will briefly describe a few of the hundreds of animals and plants associated with Beaver Ponds EEC. Some animals and birds will be easy to spot, while others may never be seen. Many smaller plants may only be seen during the short summers when the ground is free of snow.