RIPARIAN RESILIENCE IN THE FACE OF INTERACTING DISTURBANCES: UNDERSTANDING COMPLEX INTERACTIONS BETWEEN WILDFIRE, EROSION, AND BEAVER (Castor canadensis) IN GRAZED DRYLAND RIPARIAN SYSTEMS OF LOW ORDER STREAMS IN NORTH CENTRAL
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... Wang et al., 2018), improved water quality (Cornell et al., 2011;Lazar et al., 2015;Puttock et al., 2017Puttock et al., , 2018Shepherd & Nairn, 2020, naturalized flow timing (Burchsted et al., 2010), failure of traditional engineering approaches to restoration (D. M. Thompson & Stull, 2002), and wildfire resilience (Fairfax & Whittle, 2020;Foster et al., 2020;Weirich, 2021;Whipple, 2019). Fully floodplain-connected, beaver-occupied riverscapes Larsen et al., 2021) are natural process domains we can no longer afford to ignore. ...
... This also helps keep water in the soil during periods of prolonged drought, where it is accessible to riparian vegetation (Amlin & Rood, 2003;Dittbrenner et al., 2018;Fairfax & Small, 2018;Puttock et al., 2021;Silverman et al., 2019;Vivian et al., 2014). However, floodplain-connected riverscapes function as speed bumps to fire spread because the soil, vegetation, and stream channels are wet throughout, and thus do not readily burn (Fairfax & Whittle, 2020;Weirich, 2021;Whipple, 2019;Wohl et al., 2022). Therefore, long stretches of restored floodplains could function as a network of firebreaks, slowing the spread of wildfires and giving humans time to contain runaway wildfires before they reach a dangerous, out-of-control state (Fairfax & Whittle, 2020). ...
... Naturally occurring beaver dam complexes are uniquely rich and varied components of riverscapes that contain highly heterogeneous water velocities, temperatures, depths, vegetation communities, and geomorphic structures within relatively small areas of the riverscape (Larsen et al., 2021;Rosell et al., 2005;Stringer & Gaywood, 2016). This heterogeneity results in particularly diverse and resilient habitats and is a large part of why beavers are keystone T A B L E 1 Briefly summarizes how connected-and disconnected-floodplain riverscapes generally respond to several key aspects of climate change (with abbreviated selected references) Fairfax & Whittle, 2020, Wohl et al., 2022, Weirich, 2021, Whipple, 2019 species (Hammerson, 1994;Naiman et al., 1986;Naiman et al., 1988;Pollock et al., 1995). But, this key bio-fluvial component of riverscapes is rare because a long history of anthropogenic impacts has simplified and disconnected streams from their floodplains (Fouty, 2018). ...
Rivers and streams, when fully connected to their floodplains, are naturally resilient systems that are increasingly part of the conversation on nature‐based climate solutions. Reconnecting waterways to their floodplains improves water quality and quantity, supports biodiversity and sensitive species conservation, increases flood, drought and fire resiliency, and bolsters carbon sequestration. But, while the importance of river restoration is clear, beaver‐based restoration—for example, strategic coexistence, relocation, and mimicry—remains an underutilized strategy despite ample data demonstrating its efficacy. Climate‐driven disturbances are actively pushing streams into increasingly degraded states, and the window of opportunity for restoration will not stay open forever. Therefore, now is the perfect time to apply the science of beaver‐based low‐tech process‐based stream restoration to support building climate resilience across the landscape. Not every stream will be a good candidate for beaver‐based restoration, but we have the tools to know which ones are. Let us use them. This article is categorized under: Science of Water > Hydrological Processes Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness Beaver connected floodplains are climate change adaptation and mitigation features of riverscapes.
... Puttock et al., 2017Puttock et al., , 2021C. J. Westbrook et al., 2020), keep vegetation green and maintain baseflow during droughts (Fairfax & Small, 2018;Silverman et al., 2019), and create patches of wildfire refugia (Fairfax & Whittle, 2020;Foster et al., 2020;Whipple, 2019;Wohl et al., 2022). These ecosystem services, among others, are monetarily valuable (Thompson et al., 2020), and that value is likely to increase as climate change intensifies. ...
Beavers are ecosystem engineers that create and maintain riparian wetland ecosystems in a variety of ecologic, climatic, and physical settings. Despite the large‐scale implications of ongoing beaver conservation and range expansion, relatively few landscape‐scale studies have been conducted, due in part to the significant time required to manually locate beaver dams at scale. To address this need, we developed EEAGER—an image recognition machine learning model that detects beaver complexes in aerial and satellite imagery. We developed the model in the western United States using 13,344 known beaver dam locations and 56,728 nearby locations without beaver dams. Performance assessment was performed in twelve held out evaluation polygons of known beaver occupancy but previously unmapped dam locations. These polygons represented regions similar to the training data as well as more novel landscape settings. Our model performed well overall (accuracy = 98.5%, recall = 63.03%, precision = 25.83%) in these areas, with stronger performance in regions similar to where the model had been trained. We favored recall over precision, which results in a more complete catalog of beaver dams found but also a higher incidence of false positives to be manually removed during quality control. These results have far‐reaching implications for monitoring of beaver‐based river restoration, as well as potential applications detecting other complex landforms.
The purpose of this design manual is to provide restoration practitioners with guidelines for implementing a subset of low-tech tools —namely beaver dam analogues (BDAs) and post-assisted log structures (PALS)—for initiating process-based restoration in structurally-starved riverscapes. While the concept of process-based restoration in riverscapes has been advocated for at least two decades, details and specific examples on how to implement it remain sparse. Here, we describe ‘low-tech process-based restoration’ (LT-PBR) as a practice of using simple, low unit-cost, structural additions (e.g. wood and beaver dams) to riverscapes to mimic functions and initiate specific processes. Hallmarks of this approach include:
- An explicit focus on the processes that a low-tech restoration intervention is meant to promote
- A conscious effort to use cost-effective, low-tech treatments (e.g. hand-built, natural materials, non-engineered, short-term design life-spans) because of the need to efficiently scale-up application.
- ‘Letting the system do the work’ which defers critical decision making to riverscapes and nature’s ecosystem engineers.
Other resources available at: http://lowtechpbr.restoration.usu.edu
Riparian and aquatic habitats support biodiversity and key environmental processes in semi-arid and arid landscapes, but stressors such as conventional livestock grazing, wildfire, and drought can degrade their condition. To enhance habitat for fish and wildlife and increase resiliency in these critical areas, land managers in the interior western United States increasingly use alternative grazing strategies, beaver management, or beaver dam surrogates as low-effort, low-expense restoration approaches. In this study we used historical archives of satellite and aerial imagery spanning three decades to characterize riparian vegetation productivity and document beaver dam occurrences, then evaluated vegetation productivity relative to land management associated with livestock grazing and beaver dam densities while accounting for climate and wildfire. After controlling for stream characteristics such as stream size, elevation, and stream slope, we demonstrate a positive response of riparian area vegetation to conservation-oriented grazing approaches and livestock exclosures, extensive beaver dam development, increased precipitation, and lack of wildfire. We show that livestock management which emphasizes riparian recovery objectives can be an important precursor to beaver activity and describe 11 – 39% increases in floodplain vegetation productivity where conservation-oriented grazing approaches or livestock exclosures and high beaver activity occur together on low-gradient sites. Land management decisions can therefore potentially confer resiliency to riparian areas under changing and variable climate conditions – the increased vegetation productivity resulting from conservation-oriented grazing or exclosures and high amounts of beaver activity at our sites is the equivalent to moving conventionally-grazed, low-gradient sites without beaver up at least 250 m in elevation or increasing water year precipitation by at least 250 mm.
Beavers, primarily through the building of dams, can deliver significant geomorphic modifications and result in changes to nutrient and sediment fluxes. Research is required to understand the implications and possible benefits of widespread beaver reintroduction across Europe. This study surveyed sediment depth, extent and carbon/nitrogen content in a sequence of beaver pond and dam structures in South West England, where a pair of Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber) were introduced to a controlled 1.8 ha site in 2011. Results showed that the 13 beaver ponds, subsequently created, hold a total of 101.53 ± 16.24 t of sediment, equating to a normalised average of 71.40 ± 39.65 kg m². The ponds also hold 15.90 ± 2.50 t of carbon and 0.91 ± 0.15 t of nitrogen within the accumulated pond sediment.
The size of beaver pond appeared to be the main control over sediment storage, with larger ponds holding a greater mass of sediment per unit area. Furthermore, position within the site appeared to play a role with the upper‐middle ponds, nearest to the intensively‐farmed headwaters of the catchment, holding a greater amount of sediment. Carbon and nitrogen concentrations in ponds showed no clear trends, but were significantly higher than in stream bed sediment upstream of the site.
We estimate that >70 % of sediment in the ponds is sourced from the intensively managed grassland catchment upstream, with the remainder from in‐situ redistribution by beaver activity. Whilst further research is required into the long term storage and nutrient cycling within beaver ponds, results indicate that beaver ponds may help to mitigate the negative offsite impacts of accelerated soil erosion and diffuse pollution from agriculturally dominated landscapes such as the intensively managed grassland in this study.
Wildfires are increasing in size and severity in forested landscapes across the Western United States. Not only do fires alter land surfaces, but they also affect the surface water quality in downstream systems. Previous studies of individual fires have observed an increase in various forms of nutrients, ions, sediments and metals in stream water for different post-fire time periods. In this research, data were compiled for over 24 000 fires across the western United States to evaluate post-fire water-quality response. The database included millions of water-quality data points downstream of these fires, and was synthesised along with geophysical data from each burned watershed. Data from 159 fires in 153 burned watersheds were used to identify common water-quality response during the first 5 years after a fire. Within this large dataset, a subset of seven fires was examined further to identify trends in water-quality response. Change-point analysis was used to identify moments in the post-fire water-quality data where significant shifts in analyte concentrations occurred. Evaluating individual fires revealed strong initial increases or decreases in concentrations, depending on the analyte, that are masked when averaged over 5 years. Evidence from this analysis shows significant increases in nutrient flux (different forms of nitrogen and phosphorus), major-ion flux and metal concentrations are the most common changes in stream water quality within the first 5 years after fire. Dissolved constituents of ions and metals tended to decrease in concentration 5 years after fire whereas particulate matter concentration continued to increase. Assembling this unique and extensive dataset provided the opportunity to determine the most common post-fire water-quality changes in the large and diverse Western USA. Results from this study could inform studies in other parts of the world, will help parameterise and validate post-fire water-quality models, and assist communities affected by wildfire to anticipate changes to their water quality.
Through their dam-building activities and subsequent water storage, beaver have the potential to restore riparian ecosystems and offset some of the predicted effects of climate change by modulating streamflow. Thus, it is not surprising that reintroducing beaver to watersheds from which they have been extirpated is an often-used restoration and climate-adaptation strategy. Identifying sites for reintroduction, however, requires detailed information about habitat factors—information that is not often available at broad spatial scales. Here we explore the potential for beaver relocation throughout the Snohomish River Basin in Washington, USA with a model that identifies some of the basic building blocks of beaver habitat suitability and does so by relying solely on remotely sensed data. More specifically, we developed a generalized intrinsic potential model that draws on remotely sensed measures of stream gradient, stream width, and valley width to identify where beaver could become established if suitable vegetation were to be present. Thus, the model serves as a preliminary screening tool that can be applied over relatively large extents. We applied the model to 5,019 stream km and assessed the ability of the model to correctly predict beaver habitat by surveying for beavers in 352 stream reaches. To further assess the potential for relocation, we assessed land ownership, use, and land cover in the landscape surrounding stream reaches with varying levels of intrinsic potential. Model results showed that 33% of streams had moderate or high intrinsic potential for beaver habitat. We found that no site that was classified as having low intrinsic potential had any sign of beavers and that beaver were absent from nearly three quarters of potentially suitable sites, indicating that there are factors preventing the local population from occupying these areas. Of the riparian areas around streams with high intrinsic potential for beaver, 38% are on public lands and 17% are on large tracts of privately-owned timber land. Thus, although there are a large number of areas that could be suitable for relocation and restoration using beavers, current land use patterns may substantially limit feasibility in these areas.
This study examined the recovery of both physical and biotic characteristics of small (<0.1 m³ sec⁻¹) headwater stream systems impacted by the Dude Fire, which occurred in central Arizona, USA, in 1990. Data collected prior to the fire from 1986 to1988 was compared to similar data collected at various points after the fire though 2011 in order to assess changes in the geomorphology and macroinvertebrate communities over the 21-year time period. Additionally, several environmental parameters of the impacted streams were compared to neighboring unburned headwater streams in order to determine recovery status. The study hypothesized that the headwater aquatic ecosystems impacted by the Dude Fire have yet to recover to unburned reference conditions. Results show that flooding, which occurred following the fire, resulted in incision in ex- cess of 0.5 m across some stream transects and is continuing to cause shifts in dominant substrate particle size. Macroinvertebrate richness, diversity, and abundance were altered from prefire conditions up to a decade after the fire. Streamside canopy cover across burned streams remained 28% lower on average. Lower concentrations of key stream nutrients, including nitrate (Formula Presented) and phosphate (Formula Presented), within impacted streams are still evident. Increases in summer stream temperatures due to the loss of streamside canopy cover continue to have an adverse affect on salmonid habitat. Thus, the process of recovery is closely tied to streamside vegetation and hydrologic disturbance patterns following the fire event, and will extend beyond the 21- year time period of this study.
Poor condition of many streams and concerns about future droughts in the arid and semi-arid western USA have motivated novel restoration strategies aimed at accelerating recovery and increasing water resources. Translocation of beavers into formerly occupied habitats, restoration activities encouraging beaver recolonization, and instream structures mimicking the effects of beaver dams are restoration alternatives that have recently gained popularity because of their potential socioeconomic and ecological benefits. However, beaver dams and dam-like structures also harbor a history of social conflict. Hence, we identified a need to assess the use of beaver-related restoration projects in western rangelands to increase awareness and accountability, and identify gaps in scientific knowledge. We inventoried 97 projects implemented by 32 organizations, most in the last 10 years. We found that beaver-related stream restoration projects undertaken mostly involved the relocation of nuisance beavers. The most common goal was to store water, either with beaver dams or artificial structures. Beavers were often moved without regard to genetics, disease, or potential conflicts with nearby landowners. Few projects included post-implementation monitoring or planned for longer term issues, such as what happens when beavers abandon a site or when beaver dams or structures breach. Human dimensions were rarely considered and water rights and other issues were mostly unresolved or addressed through ad-hoc agreements. We conclude that the practice and implementation of beaver-related restoration has outpaced research on its efficacy and best practices. Further scientific research is necessary, especially research that informs the establishment of clear guidelines for best practices.
River beads refer to retention zones within a river network that typically occur within wider, lower gradient segments of the river valley. In lowland, floodplain rivers that have been channelized and leveed, beads can also be segments of the river in which engineering has not reduced lateral channel mobility and channel-floodplain connectivity. Decades of channel engineering and flow regulation have reduced the spatial heterogeneity and associated ecosystem functions of beads occurring throughout river networks from headwaters to large, lowland rivers. We discuss the processes that create and maintain spatial heterogeneity within river beads, including examples of beads along mountain streams of the Southern Rockies in which large wood and beaver dams are primary drivers of heterogeneity. We illustrate how spatial heterogeneity of channels and floodplains within beads facilitates storage of organic carbon; retention of water, solutes, sediment, and particulate organic matter; nutrient uptake; biomass and biodiversity; and resilience to disturbance. We conclude by discussing the implications of river beads for understanding solute and particulate organic matter dynamics within river networks and the implications for river management. We also highlight gaps in current understanding of river form and function related to river beads. River beads provide an example of how geomorphic understanding of river corridor form and process can be used to restore retention and resilience within human-altered river networks.
This case explores the Methow Beaver Project (MBP), an ambitious experiment to restore beaver (Castor canadensis) to a high mountain watershed in Washington State, USA. The Pacific Northwest is already experiencing weather regimes consistent with longer term climate projections, which predict longer and drier summers and stronger and wetter winter storms. Ironically, this combination makes imperative more water storage in one of the most heavily dammed regions in the nation. Although the positive role that beaver can play in watershed enhancement has been well known for decades, no project has previously attempted to re-introduce beaver on a watershed scale with a rigorous monitoring protocol designed to document improved water storage and temperature conditions needed for human uses and aquatic species. While the MBP has demonstrated that beaver can be re-introduced on a watershed scale, it has been much more difficult to scientifically demonstrate positive changes in water retention and stream temperature, given hydrologic complexity, unprecedented fire and floods, and the fact that beaver are highly mobile. This case study can help environmental studies students and natural resource policy professionals think about the broader challenges of diffuse, ecosystem services approaches to climate adaptation. Beaver-produced watershed improvements will remain difficult to quantify and verify, and thus will likely remain less attractive to water planners than conventional storage dams. But as climate conditions put additional pressure on such infrastructure, it is worth considering how beaver might be employed to augment watershed storage capacity, even if this capacity is likely to remain at least in part inscrutable.