The beavers are back! Beaver Ponds was home to at least one colony of beavers all winter. They disappeared sometime this spring. Was the wiley coyote, caught in this 2 am photo on our game camera sniffing around the lodge, the culprit?
Or did they just move away? We’ll never know but we do know that dam that was broken has now been repaired; a sure sign these ecosystem engineers have returned.
This article is about watersheds so why focus on the return of the beaver? Because beavers are great news for watersheds. Before Europeans trappers nearly hunted the beaver to extinction, every creek and river in North America had a beaver pond. There were likely more beavers than humans. Their dams are the natural way of things, not an anomaly. It is thought that there were 25 million dams in the United States alone. Our ecosystems co-evolved with them. Aspens, willows, forbs and grasses all adapted to the amazing wetlands created by beaver.
The monitoring teams of Beaver Ponds work to survey and analyze the water quality of Sacramento Creek and are able to see firsthand how the landscape is positively altered by beaver. Ponds make the creek slow down, meander gently instead of racing down the mountain in a torrent. These meanders hold back sediment and pollutants that would otherwise enter our drinking water systems.
The ponds not only collect water at the surface but recharge ground water nearby, raising the water table throughout the valley where the stream passes through. This changes sagebrush desert to lush meadows that become home to a wild variety of plants and animals.
Beavers help people too. Their dams hold water that can later be used for drinking. They slow floods and reduce damage that can be caused by them. Their dams store carbon, slowing the effects of climate change.
They are also fun to watch. Through studying the streams of our high watersheds, I’ve become a “wetland nerd.” I love to walk the channels and ridges made by beaver both recently and decades ago. We’ve seen layers of beaver dams and lodges that have been covered over with new dams and lodges. It feels like you are in an ancient city as you walk among the dams, lodges and channels.
In the last month our monitoring team has walked the wilds of both Pennsylvania and Little Sacramento Creeks. As we walk in the creek gathering data, we come to know it in an intimate way. We know each giant boulder that’s too big to climb over, each dense patch of willows and each open meadow, each patch of beautifully purple but poisonous monk’s hood to be avoided and each sego lily to be adored. I enjoy both the science and the poetry of these amazing wetlands. If you’d like to volunteer, please contact beaver ponds for more information.