U.S. Forest Service to find out just how many beavers live in the valley | AspenTimes.com

U.S. Forest Service to find out just how many beavers live in the valley

The West Fork of the North Elk Creek.
White River National Forest/Courtesy photo

A beaver census is just downstream, to be administered by the White River National Forest this summer through October.

The Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved an agreement to allocate $50,000 of the Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund to partially finance a study into beaver activity and habitats Roaring Fork Valley headwaters.

“This agreement is to investigate and implement actions to promote beaver utilization of our headwater streams up on federal land in order to promote watershed health and occupation by native aquatic species,” said Lisa Tasker of the Healthy Rivers and Streams Citizen Advisory Board.

The money will go to hire two seasonal employees to visit high-elevation sites across federal land in the valley. Clay Ramey, a fisheries biologist with the White River National Forest, said he compiled 200 randomly generated sites, including Thompson Creek, Castle Creek, Snowmass Creek, eastern Maroon Creek, Hunter Creek, Woody Creek, and the upper Frying Pan area. 

The ecological changes brought about by a beaver dam are illustrated in this photo from Bouwes in 2016.
Courtesy White River Nation Forest

“I’m really enthusiastic about this,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said. “And it’s this sort of activity that helps, you know, turn our kids on to preservation in the natural world and protection of important resources.”

Commissioner Steve Child, after telling a story about the time he dissected a roadkill beaver, asked about what will be done with the information gleaned from the study.

“I imagined that we might use it for getting some beavers introduced into some river areas that maybe used to have them in the past but don’t have them now,” he said. “Because I see beavers as a way of backing the water up and helping the high-elevation wetlands become more of a sponge to hold water for later in the summer. To me, it’s really a good thing to do to keep the water back and up in the high country as long as possible.”

Ecologically, beavers dams and the pools they produce allow a healthy, vibrant riparian zone in areas they might not otherwise exist. And they hold runoff water at higher elevations for longer.

Ramey said that once the U.S. Forest Service knows where beavers already live and where they would improve the ecosystem, they can relocate beavers to sites that make ecological sense.

“Beavers were native here. And so, before the gringos showed up and killed them all, there were beavers everywhere. And more or less every stream that’s less than something like 5% slope was just chock a block with beaver dams. The animals adapted to that, and the plant communities adapted to that. And the water that came out of these watersheds probably a lot slower than it did once we took all the beavers out,” Ramey said. “It’s using beavers as a management tool in this way; it’s attempting to re-create what was the existing natural, ecological context for the way water came off of the mountains here.”

Beaver dams also help in wildfire mitigation, as their pools encourage greater ground water retention and a refuge for wildlife in the event of a fire.

Once USFS has a complete data set of beavers and potential habitats throughout the forest, Ramey said that he will be able to inform Colorado Parks and Wildlife where to relocate beavers that have set up shop in residential areas.

“It’s not a beaver re-introduction project,” he said. “We’re just looking around.”

Video of the Pitkin County meeting can be found at grassrootstv.org.