Utah forests need beaver, their chief water engineer, back — because dams change everything.
Riparian areas host the greatest biodiversity of any habitat in the West (with aspen communities second), and wetlands and freshwater aquatic systems are among the most imperiled. The contribution of dam-building beaver to these habitats is priceless. Their dams help to:
Expand riparian areas and make ponds and wetlands
Slow water, allowing it to recharge groundwater rather than become runoff
Reduce the gouging, erosive power of floods, especially if the dams occur in series
Trap sediment to repair damaged, incised creek channels
Extend and increase late summer flows by slowing water
Create habitat for frogs, salamanders, fish, ducks, and cavity-nesting birds
- Improve habitat for the vast majority of species, nearly all of whom rely on healthy riparian areas and associated water
These benefits are particularly important in light of expected consequences of climate change in the Southwest, including higher temperatures, reduced snowpack, earlier-season water runoff, drought, and potentially heavier flood events. Currently, beaver are active in only a fraction of their potential habitat for several reasons:
- People and agencies are often unaware of simple, time-tested, nonlethal means (for example, constructing sturdy flow-control devices) of responding to situations in which the beaver’s genius at building dams can be transformed from “nuisance” to “benefit.”
- Irrigation companies or others sometimes dynamite dams and kill beavers, thinking beaver “steal” water.
- Recreational trapping has not been controlled in areas where beaver are recovering.