Drought Solution: Leave it to Beavers

July 5, 2021

Loving these stories.

Sacramento Bee (registration required):

Seven years ago, ecologists looking to restore a dried-out Placer County floodplain faced a choice: Spend at least $1 million bringing in heavy machines to revive habitat or try a new approach.

They went for the second option, and turned to nature’s original flood manager to do the work — the beaver.

The creek bed, altered by decades of agricultural use, had looked like a wildfire risk. It came back to life far faster than anticipated after the beavers began building dams that retained water longer.

“It was insane, it was awesome,” said Lynnette Batt, the conservation director of the Placer Land Trust, which owns and maintains the Doty Ravine Preserve. 

“It went from dry grassland. .. to totally revegetated, trees popping up, willows, wetland plants of all types, different meandering stream channels across about 60 acres of floodplain,” she said.

The Doty Ravine project cost about $58,000, money that went toward preparing the site for beavers to do their work. 

In comparison, a traditional constructed restoration project using heavy equipment across that much land could cost $1 to $2 million, according to Batt.

The project is supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through its Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. Since 2014, it has worked with the Placer Land Trust to restore and enhance habitat for migratory birds, waterfowl, salmon and steelhead by unleashing the beavers, a keystone species.

Damion Ciotti, a restoration biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who led the project, said he predicted the Doty Ravine project would take a decade to reconnect the stream to the floodplain, but to his surprise, it was restored in just three years.

Ciotti and other restoration ecologists are working on more beaver restoration projects with the Maidu Summit Consortium at Yellow Creek in Plumas County and the Nature Conservancy at Childs Meadow in Tehama County. Ciotti estimates there are likely dozens of other smaller projects throughout the state using these approaches.

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