Methow Beaver Project

Beaver eating aspen, photographer Teri PieperThe Methow Beaver Project is a group of partners working to improve water quantity and quality. Weknow this can be accomplished using nature's wetland engineers in a manner that is compatible with ecosystem processes that have been in place for 10,000 years. The demand for fur and an aggressive trapping campaign in the early 1800's eliminated beavers from nearly all our streams and severely impacted their ability to purify water, provide late season water, and grow riparian habitat that benefited many species such as migrant song birds, bats, and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.

With the help of remote sensing expertise at Pacific Biodiversity Institute we determined the best places to restore beavers using Geographic Information System technology. Stream gradient, stream bottom width, vegetation characteristics, and habitat unit size are criteria we are using to select optimum release sites.

Beaver family at the Methow National Fish Hatchery holding facility.Making a connection with landowners who have beavers using their property is an essential part of the partnership where the Methow Conservancy excels. In some cases the beavers are improving conditions for salmon fry, songbirds, and amphibians. The project helps landowners recognize that value. In some cases the nuisance factor is intolerable, and the beavers need to be relocated.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has trained technicians to capture and move the beavers carefully to avoid injuries and make sure that they are healthy when ready for release. They also care daily for beavers at our holding facility.

The Methow National Fish Hatchery has offered a place to gather the beavers in social groups so the release is more effective. Beavers are held in old fish raceways, fed well, given the chance to learn to be with other beavers, and then transported as a group to release sites.

The US Forest Service has the responsibility to check the release sites to verify optimum conditions and coordinate the delivery to the site. They help facilitate all aspects of the project from capture through release and along with all partners, participate in public education -- at the hatchery, during evening programs, on field tours, and in classrooms.  In addition, the Forest Service Wenatchee Forestry Sciences Lab is coordinating a long-term monitoring effort to document the benefits of beaver restoration to stream systems. The Okanogan Conservation District and the Yakama Nation are also key partners in this part of the project.

We hope this cooperative partnership can be a model for watershed improvement throughout Washington State and eventually anywhere the removal of beavers has impacted water quality, late season water quantity, and the benefits of good condition stream side habitat.

Check out the "Beaver Relocation Project" video shot and edited by Anna Swanson in August 2010.

315 Riverside Avenue / PO Box 71    Winthrop, WA 98862     509.996.2870