We could not be more excited to officially announce that we are sponsoring two Cal Poly Master’s students, Sophie Aubry and Casandra Leach, in their study of beaver wetlands in SLO County!
They are both enrolled in the Masters of Science in Environmental Sciences and Management program (MS ESM) with Dr. Seeta Sistla as their advisor. The pair will be studying and comparing three different ecosystems: beaver constructed wetlands, non-beaver wetlands, and rivers with no active beavers.
Sophie Aubry will be testing to determine the carbon sequestration potential of beaver
wetlands, something that has never been studied in our area. This can have widespread implications for carbon offset and mitigation projects in the future for our county and beyond. She will test the carbon in the soils surrounding the wetlands, the vegetation growth spurred by beaver chewing, and the greenhouse gas flux coming from the wetlands. Casandra Leach will be testing for nutrients in the beaver wetlands, non-beaver wetlands, and rivers without beavers. Specifically, she will be looking for nutrient cycling and availability, particularly as it relates to primary productivity. Together, they will
provide us with a needed, and in-depth analysis on how beavers affect greenhouse gas sequestration and nutrient availability.
This research could be a valuable tool in our tool belt as we learn how to mitigate the effects of climate change and restore life to our rivers and streams.
This January 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom and the leaders of California’s college and university systems launched the largest state-level investment in a college service program in California history. College Corps will provide more than 10,000 college students with opportunities to support and learn from community-based organizations working in three priority areas: K-12 education, climate action and food insecurity.
The SLO Beaver Brigade, with fiscal sponsorship by Ecologistics, will be a Host Organization for two CalPoly College Corps Fellows for the 2022-2023 school year. We’d like to introduce you to our first Fellow, Jorge Marin.
My name is Jorge and my hometown is Koreatown, Los Angeles. I am a Cal Poly SLO undergrad studying Animal Science with a minor in biology emphasizing wildlife management/conservation. During the summer of 2022, I spent my time as a volunteer at a wildlife rescue center in Costa Rica where I helped with veterinary care and husbandry. It was such an amazing experience to work with sloths, anteaters, and monkeys. When I’m here in SLO I volunteer on the weekends with The Marine Mammal Center. I tend to our local seals and sea lions who are in need of rescue with medical care and tube feeding till they can be rehabilitated back into the sea. I’m excited to be joining as a fellow for the SLO Beaver Brigade who have partnered with the CollegeCorps to advocate for climate action in the central coast. What I hope to learn from this experience is how to be a leader and advocate myself for our community here in SLO spreading awareness of beaver ecosystems and community contribution.
We had two dozen folks join us for a fun day walking the Salinas River in June. Some of us were wet up to our shins, some to our knees and some were soaked well past their waists! It was a great day sharing beaver stories, new findings and immersing ourselves in their environment. And we even learned a few things.
The beavers in Templeton are doing well. Where there was only one dam a few months ago, now there are 6 active dams. That is one busy beaver family! The beavers in Atascadero have been equally as busy. While we didn’t cover the entire area, we counted no less than 10 beaver dams in a 2 mile stretch of river. The only thing missing was more time to cover more ground.
We also discovered some unfortunate news. The invasive Phragmites species that is spreading in Atascadero, has been spotted in Templeton also. It’s just a small patch there, but it does look like this tall grass is making its way downstream. We will continue to monitor this species that has been choking out the willows and other native plant species that the beavers depend upon.
We are looking forward to another survey day July 23rd and August 13th. There is still time to join us for the fun! Sign up here!
A megafire is a fire that burns more than 100,000 acres. From wikipedia, these fires form pyrocumulus and pyro cumulonimbus, clouds which are also named “fire-breathing dragons”. These are clouds that rain down fire, lightning, hail and sometimes even tornadoes, further spreading the megafire.
These are fires that create their own weather.
Dr. Emily Fairfax has been studying beaver complexes and forest fires. She published a paper titled Smokey the Beaver: beaver-dammed riparian corridors stay green during wildfire throughout the western United States. She learned that beaver-dammed riparian areas burn 3 times less than riparian areas that are without beavers. She has shared striking photos of river bottoms burned to charcoal in areas where the beavers weren’t, right alongside areas that were green, vibrant and alive where the beavers had maintained a series of dams that were completely unharmed by the wildfire.
You may have seen her 45 second stop-motion video on beavers and fire:
But what about beavers and megafires?
Can a rodent still provide benefits when the fires are creating their own weather?
Luckily, Dr. Emily Fairfax is studying that, too. She recently presented her findings in June 2022 at Beavercon, an international conference that brings together beaver professionals of all kinds. You can see her 30 minute presentation here (and I highly recommend it).
And for those with a short attention span, the answer is yes, beaver-dammed riparian areas significantly help, even during megafires. But if you want the numbers to know exactly how much they help, and it’s a lot, watch the presentation.
by Cooper Lienhart
- Carbon sequestration –
- Beaver and BDA restored rivers and streams connected to the floodplain hold significantly more carbon than degraded rivers and streams, as well as grasslands. Active beaver complexes hold on average 10-30 times more carbon than grasslands.
- Biodiversity –
- Beaver and BDA restored rivers and streams support increased biodiversity and richness of plant and animal species.
- Water Quantity –
- Beaver and BDA restored rivers and streams support increased surface water storage, groundwater connectivity and recharge, and duration of surface water flow.
- Water Quality –
- Beaver restored areas improve the water quality of the river or stream as well as lessen the pollutants that make it to the ocean. Beaver ponds create slow water to settle out pollutants such as heavy metals and excess nutrients. Then the beaver dams force water underground, binding pollutants to the soil where natural decomposition processes can convert excess nutrients.
- Fire resiliency –
- photo courtesy of Joseph Wheaton (Utah State University) Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
- Beaver and BDA restored rivers and streams are proven to show enhanced fire resiliency, often creating large wetted areas that will not burn, thus creating fire refuge for wildlife. A restored river or stream network can also act as a fire break. Furthermore, restored streams aid in post-fire recovery – settling out harmful ash.
- Water temperature –
- Beaver dams and Beaver Dam Analogues (BDAs) drive surface water-groundwater interactions, cycling warmer surface water with colder groundwater, thus creating an overall cooler, heterogenous temperature mosaic that benefits wildlife, water quality and more.
- Drought resiliency –
- The increased water storage, groundwater storage and hydrologic connectivity of the floodplain improves the drought tolerance of plant and animal communities, as well as human communities.
- Flood resiliency –
- Beaver dams and BDAs act as speed bumps that slow and spread the water flow, which disperses the energy of the system, thus lessening the intensity of high flow events that cause flooding.
- Erosion protection –
- The introduction of beaver dams and BDAs into rivers and streams is shown to reverse the effects of erosion. The added in-channel structure dampens the erosive force of the water flow by slowing and spreading the water, while the structures catch sediment to help build the river or stream back up to the floodplain. Meanwhile increased riparian vegetation helps stabilize the banks.
- Steelhead and salmonids –
- Beaver and BDA restored sites improve the survival rate, health and population size of steelhead and salmonids. The slow moving water, regulated water temperature and increased water quality are some of the contributing factors that aid in their increased productivity.