For the last decade agencies, land trusts and volunteer groups have been working throughout Oregon to enhance our watersheds. The work has brought the return of many native species, including the American beaver. Statewide, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement board has been the lead funder, while Clean Water Services has funded the majority of projects in the Tualatin Basin, where many of TWC urban preserves reside. “We spent years building resiliency in our streams; enhancing watershed function. Then beavers move in. They love it, they create dams. Now we want to know, how do the dams effect urban hydrology, sediment storage and biodiversity? We know beavers benefit community, they helps us meet regulatory requirements, now we need to educate the community” about this species states Carol Murdock of Clean Water Services.
Beavers make things complex; that is one of their essential characteristics. They slow water down, creating deeper cooler pools, resuscitate our ground water, retain sediment and purify water. But these benefits don’t come without conflicts. Carol Murdock (of Clean Water Services) says “we recognize the benefits of beaver for our larger watershed, so now we have to figure out what it means when beaver dams flood trails, basements or parking lots?” Until recently, the answer to those conflicts was trapping and killing beaver.
It may surprise many Oregonians that beaver-our state animal- are not protected. In fact every year hundreds of beavers are killed and removed from our waterways. But in November 2017 that practice came to an end. Northwest Environmental Advocates, Western Environmental Law Center and Center for Biodiversity submitted a letter to the federal Wildlife Services threatening litigation for the killing of beaver. By linking beaver to the “survival and recovery of the endangered Coho Salmon” beaver for the first time in their long and complicated history with Oregonians are staying in our waterways.
For The Wetlands Conservancy, the lawsuit supports our beaver conservation program. We are working with local landowners, surface water management agencies, students, community groups and artists to learn more about beaver and start to educate the community about the role that beaver can play in our water systems. “It takes work to live with beaver but if you do that work, there are all these great benefits” says Dave Powers, a private land owner and former OWEB board member. Powers spent a decade funding salmon restoration projects with OWEB that mimic the impacts of beaver dams. A few years ago, Powers had a first-hand experience when beavers built a dam on his property. That year Power’s well didn’t dry up and he saw greater bio-diversity along the creek. The beavers brought complexity back to the stream, were able to raise the water table, and even years after they have gone, Powers still feels the positive impacts of their hard work.
Beavers are masters at changing a landscape. Their work could be an incredible asset to our changing climate, but they come with conflicts for our built community. “This is our opportunity to hit the pause button, to figure out what else we can do to get creative and do things differently. It is amazing what beavers can contribute to our long-term water supply, biodiversity and climate change impacts. They truly are a keystone species. Killing them is just not the answer,” reflects Murdock. Thanks to the protections the lawsuit offers, TWC looks forward to expanding and implementing our beaver conservation vision to conserve and enhance Oregon.