Methow Beaver Project promotes working with Beavers as partners for restoring streams, riparian habitat, and biodiversity while reactivating wetlands, increasing water storage, and fostering community education and involvement to improve the health and resilience of the Methow River watershed.
Our Legacy & Future
When we began our mission in 2008, our focus was to aid ecosystem process-based restoration by relocating nuisance beavers from private lands to suitable, unoccupied stream segments on public lands where their presence and behaviors would foster riparian resiliency and watershed health. Ten years later, we have expanded our efforts to include retaining beavers on private lands in the anadromous or salmon bearing segment of the Methow Watershed, relocating beavers to public lands in these areas, and increasing structure and vegetation in degraded streams to better support relocated beavers and our community.
We focus on low-impact, low-cost, highly effective restoration benefits to the land, the water quality and wildlife by promoting the beaver’s natural behaviors, analogs of beaver dam structures, and their resulting influence on ecosystem processes. We provide environmental-education opportunities to people of all ages, research opportunities for universities and agencies, and guidance to similar beaver restoration projects. We engage with and encourage our communities to adapt and adopt policies that conserve beaver populations and support greater use of beaver restoration as a landscape scale restoration tool to repair degraded river systems.
As we continue our efforts, we strive to realize a highly functioning Methow Watershed that supports the needs of both people and the environment through collaboration, adaptation, and ingenuity.
MBP is Possible Thanks to Our Key Funding Partners
|Washington Department of Ecology (DOE)||Bureau of Reclamation (BOR)|
|Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO)||U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)|
|Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CTCR)|
Why Beavers? Why Now?
Beavers once shaped North American landscapes with their industrious dam building. The riparian systems they fostered between the aquatic and terrestrial world were labyrinthian in their complexity, harboring nearly unimaginable biodiversity and productivity. That riparian productivity was rooted in the seasonal connection between rivers and their floodplains providing critical exchange of nutrients during high flow events. Beavers naturally create, expand and enhance riparian habitat through dam building and support some of the highest biodiversity on the planet. These areas also dissipate high flows and reduce flooding, filter water by capturing sediment and nutrients, recharge ground water, and release water in low flow periods. Riparian areas are estimated to have once covered 40-50% of the landscape prior to European settlement, however today they represent less than 2% of the western US.
The loss of riparian as well as wetland habitat in the Methow River watershed occurred historically from the over-trapping of beavers for their fur and the desired control of natural resources in the west, but the loss continues today. Land use change and development, intense extraction of resources, and overgrazing by domestic livestock along rivers and streams has reduced stream channel complexity and led to the degradation and loss of riparian habitat quality and abundance. Degradation of riparian habitat continues to increase following large wildfires and severe erosion events caused by more than a century of fire suppression and changing patterns of precipitation and temperature due to climate change.
Beaver populations are increasing since their near extirpation from the western US by the early 1800's but remain a small fraction of their former density. Following the beavers mass removal from the landscape in such large numbers, people began to settle across the west. With water drained from the landscape and so few beavers in it, people naturally gravitated to the floodplains to live close to water, aquatic foods and to benefit from the rich productive soils of the former beaver pond complexes. Once settled, humans had little tolerance for beavers returning and causing flooding and other property damage or loss. As time went by, beavers became associated primarily with causing problems, a nuisance to landowners, cities, and towns and their infrastructure. Beavers were thought of as overgrown rats with far too much ambition.
Times are changing, as they do, and the beaver’s natural behaviors are being recognized by many as providing dramatic benefits to the land and water, fish and wildlife, and human communities, particularly after decades or centuries of human development. Beavers dam building offers numerous benefits including low-cost, low-tech water storage, wildfire resistance, and complex habitat required for many species to survive and reproduce, including endangered salmon. In the face of climate uncertainties, giving natural systems more space, protection, and freedom to function is like putting money (or water) in the bank to make sure it’s there when needed most.
The Benefits of Beaver Activity
Beavers support watershed health & drainage management by:
- Keeping water on the landscape longer.
- Aiding water conservation.
- Mitigating reduced snowpack and precipitation.
- Increasing habitat complexity and structure. View our documentary on coexistence with salmonids below!
- Improving natural processes by restoring stream and floodplain connection.
- Restoring historic wetlands.
- Increasing biodiversity.
- Supporting sediment capture and nutrient capture.
- Moderating stream temperatures. Important for salmonids!
- Slowing stream velocity.
- Attenuating flooding and high flow levels.
- Supporting organism refugia. Especially temperature sensitive salmonids and climate-change-challenged species!
Explore Our Documentaries
“Fins and Fur: An Unlikely Partnership in River Restoration” is a documentary short which explains the beneficial relationship between beavers and salmon/ salmonids, including the ways beaver dams create ideal habitat for juvenile fish and contribute essential building blocks to the biodiversity of our rivers and streams.
“One Stick at a Time: Pursuing Climate Adaptation Solutions for a more Sustainable Future” is a full-length documentary which focuses on the benefits of using beavers as a climate-change-mitigation tool. Topics include restoration, riparian resiliency, water quality and management, watershed health, and the history and future of beavers as shapers of our homes and habitats.