Watershed Corner: Replica beaver dams can restore our watersheds | SkyHiNews.com

Watershed Corner: Replica beaver dams can restore our watersheds

Ingrid Karlstrom
Upper Colorado Watershed Environment Team Board Member
Pictured left to right: Ingrid Karlstrom with UCWET, Jessica Doran of Ecometrics and Paula Belcher of the Bureau of Reclamation work on a a beaver dam analogue at Spruce Creek.
Geoff Elliot Grand Environmental Services/Courtesy photo

We are all critters, but on Earth Day none could be more important to our Mother Nature than the beaver, a keystone species for the restoration of our rivers, streams and riparian areas.  With their dams and ponds, they hold back the waters, recharge wetlands and support the flora and fauna of our entire mountain ecosystem. 

Currently, our valleys are pretty bereft of beaver as we are drying up with climate change and trans-mountain water diversions.  Seventy to 80% of our west-side waters are being shipped to the Front Range and soon it may be 90% into Eastern Slope reservoirs.

We can begin to curb this water conundrum by building man-made beaver dam replicas known as beaver dam analogues. Building these replicas in our upper reaches will slow down those waters and replenish willow supplies for our natural earth engineers, rodent Castor canadensis (beaver).  If we build them, along with tall fence exclosures to keep the over-browsing ungulates from eating all the willow to the ground, the beaver will come.

This restoration is a prime goal of our watershed group, the Upper Colorado Watershed Environment Team, or UCWET (formerly Upper CO River Watershed group).  We have been working with several entities to further this goal: Save the Colorado, Colorado Department of Health and Environment, Northern Water and now the U.S. Forest Service.

Also, along with our local libraries, the environment team is in the midst of setting up a citizen science program, which will be accessed on our website so that all of you who care about our county can help us with data gathering, while you are enjoying our great outdoors.  We will announce when the site is up and running.

This beaver dam analogue, with posts across the creek and soft, woody material woven across, was built by environmental restoration group EcoMetrics and keeps water on the landscape by mimicking beaver activity.
Jackie Corday/Aspen Journalism

Last fall, some of our watershed group helped build beaver dam analogues on Spruce Creek in Summit County.  The project was sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation’s Kremmling office.  This tiny creek flowed through a dry meadow — the grass and willow covered ground was all lumpy with long abandoned beaver dams.  Our team built four dams in one day and by the time we got out of there, we were hip-deep in water gullies. 

The hope/expectation is that beaver will be able to move on up from the Blue River and reestablish themselves. The first creek we are tending to in Grand County is Supply Creek, on Forest Service land in the Kawuneeche Valley, adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park.  This creek was the most severely damaged by the 2020 East Troublesome Fire.  But all the creeks in the park are in desperate need of restoration. Respect our Mother Earth.

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