Nuisance beavers, who in recent years were viewed as pests and quickly disposed of, are now in high demand.
A growing number of ranchers, and federal and state agencies are asking to have beavers translocated to their lands to act as affordable ecosystem engineers to restore riparian habitats, hold water on the dry arid lands, and restore creeks to their historic condition.
Currently the number of requests for live beavers outnumbers the amount of available animals.
Nick Bouwes, Assistant Professor in Watershed Sciences at Utah State University said, “To assist in fulfilling this need, USU’s Department of Watershed Sciences and Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources is working with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to build a beaver holding facility a few miles south of USU’s main campus.”
The architects are drafting blueprints, consultants are analyzing the needs of beavers in captivity, and scientists are seeking funding for the project.
According to Joseph Wheaton, Associate Professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences, “We plan to build a place where [beaver] that would typically be lethally removed, will be given a second chance by moving them to places where their engineering skills will be helpful in stream restoration and …where they won’t get into trouble.”
Bouwes adds, “It’s…not as easy as simply catching and releasing a beaver. A lot goes on to increase their ability to survive and stay put after the release. They are social animals, so trapping a whole family unit is the best method. If a single beaver is released, they tend to take off and look for other beavers.”
Researchers hope the facility will expand to be an educational tool where they can hold workshops, study the beavers themselves, and educate the public with tours and visiting hours.
The project includes a design for a mobile trapping facility. This will allow the researchers to travel around the state trapping beavers that are currently in incompatible locations.
Bouwes explains, “It’s basically a trailer with kennels to keep the beavers cool. They are…sensitive to heat. If we go off location for any length of time, being able to keep the beavers cool and [safe]…will be very useful.”
When the trailer arrives back at the holding facility, scientists will move the beavers to kennels that have a slight slope and a divot at the end that serves as a small pond where the beavers can swim.
Nate Norman, a consultant on the project from Balance Environmental, adds, “We are not looking for this to be a new home, we just want it to be safe and comfortable for the beavers until we can get them back into the wild.”
Researchers will quarantine the beavers for 72 hours to ensure they are free of disease and parasites before managers move them to a new watershed.
Once the quarantine is complete, scientists will use the Beaver Assessment Tool to determine where the beaver family would most likely succeed.
Bouwes explains, “This [tool] looks at all the stream networks across Utah and identifies…the best place to re-introduce beaver. It evaluates the dam building capacity of a stream, and identifies places of potential conflict.”
The success of this project is dependent on its partners: DWR provides the expertise and oversight, USU supplies the land and research facilities, and ranchers allow access to streams for placing the beavers.
When the beaver holding facility is open, scientists and managers hope to be translocating 50-100 beavers a year.
Those interested in learning more about beavers and stream restoration are invited to attend a workshop at USU in October.
Look for details at restoration.usu.edu.