The Methow Beaver Project is starting its 12th year with new leadership and a full calendar of activities, Project Director Alexa Whipple said this week in a press release.
Whipple, whose work begins July 1, said that as a long-time volunteer, she’s already up to speed to direct the project.
“The main thing driving the Methow Beaver Project is to get beavers back on the landscape and help reduce conflicts with nuisance beaver,” Whipple said in the release. She noted that beavers help keep water in the landscape longer as snowpack dwindles and fire risks grow.
Ideally, when beavers move into an area, they’ll be able to stay there. “If they’ve gotten there on their own, they like it and it’s working for them. And they’re doing good work supporting ecosystem function,” said Whipple.
Beaver Project staff and partners have developed tools that can help landowners live with beavers, Whipple said, such as culvert protectors, tree fencing and pond levelers to curtail flooding.
Trapping nuisance beavers and moving them to places where they’ll do some good is not always easy, according to Whipple. “They don’t often stay where you put them,” she said. “There aren’t too many places these days where you can just drop a pair of beaver and have them be successful or stay put without some human intervention. We are trying to remedy that.”
Beaver Project consultant and trapper Alec Spencer added: “We can select potential release sites based on known criteria for good beaver habitat, but if it doesn’t feel like home to the animals, they may not stick around.”
When beaver do stay put, the results are often dramatic. In just a few days, beavers can dam a stream and create a sizable pond. Ponds dispersed through the watershed trap millions of gallons of water for slow release during the dry season, much like mountain snowpack. “With predicted shifts to more rain and less snow, beaver ponds may be able to replace water storage that we are likely to lose as extended snow storage diminishes,” said Whipple.
“We have a very high success rate because of the husbandry techniques that have been developed by the Methow Beaver Project, besides the site evaluation,” Whipple added. “We have one of the highest success rates for relocation and establishment of any beaver project.”
Whipple recently completed a master’s degree in biology with a focus on restoration ecology at Eastern Washington University. She previously worked in wildlife biology and sustainable agriculture. She and the Methow Beaver Project plan to start using beaver dam analogs — wood post and vegetation woven structures that mimic beaver dams and help restore functions and processes to severely damaged areas, such as those where post-fire flooding has caused major erosion. That restoration may make degraded streams more hospitable to beaver activity in the future.
In addition to working directly with beavers, Beaver Project staff are reaching out to the community at Kids’ Fishing Day this Saturday (June 8) from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery. Later this year, the Beaver Festival will take place Sept. 13 at the Winthrop Barn. Highlights will include a presentation by Ben Goldfarb, author of “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter,” and a screening of the movie “The Beaver Believers.” Beaver relocation site visits may also be offered.
The project invites volunteers. For more information or to volunteer, contact the Methow Beaver Project at (509) 287-2770. To consult about a beaver problem, contact Alec Spencer at (509) 557-0594. Learn about the project online at methowsalmon.org/beaverproject.html.