Helping Beavers Help Us Restore Riverscapes: Insight from Beaver-based Restoration in WA & CO

Year: 2023
Presenter/s: Alexa Whipple
Symposium Session: 2023 - 02 One Species to Restore them All: Beaver-based Watershed Restoration
Topics covered: adaptive management and monitoring, beavers, colorado, fish-salmon, fish-steelhead, floodplain, lessons learned, mountain west, and wildfire


Riverscapes in North America were formed and maintained by the broad influence of hydrology, geology, and biology, but one biological organism is regarded as having influenced this biodiversity building triad more than any other… beavers, a quintessential keystone species. Most North American riverscapes are now degraded following the historical extirpation of beavers and subsequent land use conversion following the fur trade. There is growing recognition and appreciation of beavers as masters in creating, maintaining, and restoring complex riverscapes for their own benefit, while also benefiting people, biodiversity, and climate resilience. However, in many places, beaver populations aren’t making much headway reestablishing in degraded riverscapes and human dominated environments on their own, even 200 years after the collapse of the nation building yet ecologically disastrous fur trade. Could Beavers fare better with our help? Partnering with beavers to rebuild functional, sustaining and resilient riverscapes is a simple and ecologically proven concept but requires a different way of thinking, outside the box of traditional river restoration approaches including static, reach-based project design and economically driven endangered species recovery. Instead, we demonstrate the need and practice of ushering in the broader sustainable management of complexity relating to the restoration of watershed scale natural processes, prioritizing ecosystem resilience and adaptation, modernizing critical keystone species management, and reconnecting social values with ecological sustainability. Alexa and Mark explore and highlight the practical aspects and challenges, successes and pitfalls of restoring sustainable riverscapes by partnering with beavers and people in Washington and Colorado Watersheds. Sharing knowledge and experience leads to accelerated adoption and adaptation so please bring your questions and projects to share during the Q&A and after.