The Way Forward – Beaver Re-establishment (DRAFT)

The Way Forward

BeaverHOODs for Beaver Re-establishment and Biodiversity (and watershed resilience!)

On building biodiversity and habitat through the BeaverHOODS model, developed by J. Jacobs.

Broken Stream Systems
Western high desert riparian landscapes are beset by environmental issues: increasing fire size and frequency; prolonged drought conditions leading to decreasing water availability and increasing water temperature; increasing prevalence of invasive species; and a legacy of land management that worked against rather than with local flora and fauna. The degradation of our watershed habitats threatens fish and wildlife, as well as humans who depend on the land. Research suggests that this degradation is also exacerbated by a lack of beaver on the landscape.

Beaver, once numbering in the millions within Oregon, were trapped to near extinction in the early 1820s. In their absence, along with increased human settlement, the habitat and ecosystem benefits they supported, which in turn supported them, unraveled. Beavers, who can maintain up to a river-mile of high-quality habitat per beaver, have gradually returned to the landscape, but recovery is slow and obstacle-ridden. Populations of beaver have failed to recover due mostly to 1) shortage of sufficient food availability, forcing beavers to risk land travel where they’re vulnerable to predation, 2) a lack of large woody structures, making dams less resilient and and less able to sustain large storm events, and 3) drought conditions that reduce total available of waterways for beavers to utilize.

While riparian ecosystems can begin to recover when limiting factors are addressed through “passive restoration” means, the level of degradation is so high that thoughtful, biology- and process-based human interventions to catalyze riparian regeneration are necessary.

Unraveling of systems as beavers populations declined

Addressing Habitat is The Imperative for Beaver Re-establishment
For those who believe as we do that more beavers belong on the landscape, and what factors are limiting their re-establishment on eastern Oregon landscapes we look closely at the limiting factors, along with beavers' natural behaviors and history.

Why are beavers absent from a system, sometimes just passing through but never settling and sticking around?

When in nature does a beaver (or beaver pair) find a stream reach and decide to “settle” and make an area his and her own, a place to invest in dam building and den building for long term family establishment?

Just like young human families who look for a 'starter home' with the basics (good schools, nearby amenities and jobs to provide for the family), beavers as well seek basics in order to settle and family build, basics such as:

  • safety (hydrology) from predators,
  • shelter (good denning and refuge holes), and
  • abundant food supplies (for many mouths)

When it comes to beavers finding these "lets-settle-here-and-raise-a-family" conditions though, they are largely absent from most eastern Oregon landscapes.

Although beavers are master engineers and highly resourceful and adaptable, the obstacles caused by 100 years of human changes to their landscape has taken its toll. We believe its almost impossible for many of these systems to regenerate on their own.

So… what is the #1 thing we humans can to to help beavers to settle and stay, and build families? Remove obstacles to beavers' success and begin to address the missing conditions that they need to do their thing, and under their own agency.

Learning from a few select examples around eastern Oregon (Hay Creek, Bridge Creek and Pine Creek) where beavers have settled and established productive and successful families. We believe what works for beaver recovery in our landscapes is the establishment of BeaverHOODs.

BeaverHOODs, are The Way Forward

What’s a BeaverHOOD?

In simple terms, a BeaverHOOD is a territorial 'home base' area (usually about 1/2 miles in stream length) for a beaver family to establish and thrive.

Conditions of a BeaverHOOD include human tolerance, limited disturbance, and the adequate food, water and shelter building materials available for a beaver family to successfully establish, survive and reproduce for future generations.

We believe that thoughtful, incremental, low-impact improvements to the land designed to address beavers' limiting factors vis-a-vis "BeaverHOODs" implemented over time will ensure the conditions for long-term, successful beaver re-establishment. A build it and they will come approach.

In Real Life - Build it and They Will Come
Rather than employing a growing popularity of relocating beavers into “site x” for a quick solution (that may or may not work), it’s imperative - and most humane - that beavers have all the conditions they need for success. Beavers are rodents, they’re highly adaptable and resilient – able to reproduce reliably with the right habitat, expand populations and travel many miles to locate ideal habitat for family raising.

Here's an example how this looks in real-world "BeaverHOOD" establishment from the John Day basin.

  • YELLOW - Downstream beaver family is thriving with abundant food, water and construction materials.
  • RED - Beavers explore this stream reach but don't settle and stick around - food is lacking.
  • BLUE - Food abundance and structure has been added over past 4 years of tree planting with protection. And structure through BDAs.



(Learn more on why relocation doesn't work)

Establishment of a BeaverHOOD requires large-scale, well-considered and thoughtful planting of native trees, shrubs and bushes along ½ mile sections of stream. Fencing helps ensure planting success, as does time spent documenting results along the way. BeaverHOODs implementation envisions consecutive years of field implementation at a site, and course-correcting the approach through adaptive management - identifying what works and new opportunities.

Beavers will naturally re-establish on their own with the right conditions

SCALING UP! Building a Network of BeaverHOODs

Think of BeaverHOODs as a basic building block of beaver family establishment and success. Looking forward, we envision connected networks of these successful beaver communities throughout Oregon and the West's high desert watersheds.

Establishment of a BeaverHOOD requires large-scale, well-considered and thoughtful planting of native trees, shrubs and bushes along ½ mile sections of stream. Fencing helps ensure planting success, as does time spent documenting results along the way. BeaverHOODs implementation envisions consecutive years of field implementation at a site, and course-correcting the approach through adaptive management - identifying what works and new opportunities.

Indeed the origins of high-value landscapes that the euro-american settlers described above sought to settle STARTED with the beaver. Rich, organic matter valley floor bottoms in America were created by millions of years of uninterrupted "beaver works".

Beavers can do this work again - are doing this work again in the few places where sufficient habitat (and BeaverHOOD potential exists), if we support their efforts, recognize their own agence and work to reduce human obstacles to success.

Supporting their effort by addressing the real root of the problem.

Relocation is a distraction, it doesn't work and is inhumane.

For building BeaverHOODS, we have the tools and the knowledge how this work needs to happen. Do we - human animals - have the will, the wisdom, understanding and fortitude to let natural processes to work at their own magical pace, without resorting to quick fix, feel good measures?

a network of beaverhoods

"If the right habitat exists, beavers will likely have already found it. What's lacking to successful beaver expansion, is good habitat."

ODFW