Written by Michael Dello Russo, Trout Unlimited
We all learned the basics of the water cycle, likely in grade school. But in case you’ve forgotten the lesson from all those years ago, here’s a refresher: precipitation falls on the landscape, enters major water bodies, and eventually evaporates to start the cycle over. When this precipitation falls as snow at high elevations, snowpack forms. As this melt throughout the year, water is slowly released, nourishing watersheds perennially. Unfortunately, with the onset of global climate change less of this winter precipitation will fall as snow. Whatever snowpack that does form will melt off quicker, resulting in large freshets, or spring runoff events, and earlier low flows. Coldwater fish, especially Washington’s threatened and endangered salmonids, will become further imperiled as water resources become less available.
An unlikely restoration partner provides hope in the face of this dismal prediction. Beavers, an oft-maligned large rodent, are incredible at what they do. In short order, beavers can dam up a stream, pond water, and multiply the salmonid habitat available. These ponds provide much needed summer refugia for coldwater fish. Concurrently, ponds act as a “pseudo-snowpack”, slowly releasing water throughout the year.
Trout Unlimited’s Wenatchee-Entiat Beaver Project aims to capitalize on the millions of years of beavers’ wetland-building evolution by using them to help enhance fish habitat. The same dam-building behavior that is so desirable for riparian restoration causes headaches for landowners and businesses alike. When these conflicts occur the Wenatchee-Entiat Beaver Project acts as an intermediary, relieving the landowners of property damage while giving the beavers a new home on public land where their hard work will be most beneficial.
Between 2019 and 2020, the project relocated 7 from conflict situations in the lower Wenatchee Valley to Mill Creek. Mill Creek, a secondary tributary of the Wenatchee River, flows into Nason Creek which provides critical habitat to spring chinook, steelhead and bull trout. Not only have these beavers stayed in the area, but they have thrived. In the matter of nine months the beavers have built over 5 new dams, one of them being 56 ft long! These dams will help to store water and create or add to existing ponds. At an approximate elevation of 3300 feet, the Mill Creek beaver dams are integral to supplying water to lower elevations throughout the year.
By relocating beavers, we create salmonid habitat while ameliorating some of the effects of climate change. The Wenatchee-Entiat Beaver Project hopes to increase social tolerance of beavers on the landscape, so they can continue to provide a wealth of ecosystem services.
Relocation and subsequent restoration are possible due to our gracious funders, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, and WDFW Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account.