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Living with Beavers

Benefits

Dam building by beaver creates diverse wetland habitat that increases wetland functions and ecosystem values including maintaining supplies of clean water and providing complex, high-quality habitat for fish and wildlife. Other benefits include sediment retention and mitigating the severity of spring runoff, both of which can improve stream stability and watershed health.

Wildlife Habitat

The beaver works as a keystone species in an ecosystem by creating wetlands that are used by many other species. Beaver dams improve nesting and brood rearing areas for waterfowl in ponds and surrounding areas. The increased growth of riparian wetland vegetation provides additional forage and cover for a variety of wildlife such as big game and songbirds. Beaver ponds help store leaf litter and other organic debris in the water and in turn support aquatic insect production, an important food for fish, amphibians and waterfowl. The increased food sources also attract mink, river otter and muskrats. Trees that die as a result of rising water levels behind beaver dams attract insects that are a food source for many wildlife species such as woodpeckers. The tree snags also provide homes for cavity-nesting birds.

Beaver dams and ponds provide important refugia from strong winter flows for fish. They increase the storage of water in headwaters, resulting in a more stable water supply and maintenance of higher flows downstream later in the summer. By providing plenty of woody debris and aquatic vegetation growth in which juvenile fish and hide from predators, beaver dams help young trout and salmon survive their first vulnerable year. They also provide winter pool habitat important to fish.

Ecosystem Services

Beaver dams create wetlands that help control downstream flooding by storing and slowly releasing water, reducing the severity of high stream flows particularly after winter storms and spring snow melt. Wetlands also improve water quality by removing or transforming excess nutrients, trapping silt, binding and removing toxic chemicals and filtering out sediment. Beaver dams and ponds provide an important function of reducing streambank erosion by reducing water velocity and energy, much like waterbars act to reduce erosion on unpaved roads by diverting the downstream water flow. Beaver also recruit large woody debris to stream channels by cutting trees, thus providing additional obstacles to erosive stream flows.

Beaver dams facilitate ground water recharge and help raise the ground water table. This promotes vegetative growth, which in turn helps stabilize stream banks and minimize erosion. In some areas, beaver dams have been a major factor in building up soil in meadows and reducing the impact of invasive vegetation. Damming activity by beaver also effectively restores incised stream channels and water tables.

Photo of beaver pond.

Beaver ponds store water and help maintain streamflow in drier months.

Beaver Impacts on the Human Environment

Beavers can become a problem if their foraging habits or building activities cause flooding or damage property. Foraging activity may result in damage to timber, crops, ornamental or landscape plants. Beaver dams and resulting elevated water levels may jeopardize the integrity of septic systems, roads, or other human structures or land use activities.

Removal of beaver is rarely a lasting solution as other beavers in the area tend to resettle the desirable habitat. In the meantime, if a dam was destroyed, a valuable pond or wetland providing water storage and valuable habitat to many dependent aquatic and wildlife species may be lost. The best approach is to develop a long-term solution that allows beavers to remain in their natural habitat.