Beavers are regularly referred to as ecosystem engineers. Their contributions to the natural world include the creation of wetland habitat for fish and wildlife and the storage of ground and surface water. The beaver population in Blackfeet country is no different. They work hard to engineer dams using trees, willows, or whatever local supplies they can get their teeth on.
While beavers work hard to maintain the reservation’s rich biodiversity and help mitigate drought, their activity can create challenges. Unwanted beaver behavior can include the damming of culverts, the flooding of houses, and the removal of prized trees in public areas such as parks. Luckily, for people and for beavers, there are nonlethal management strategies that can mitigate these challenges.
On June 18th, the Ksik Stakii Project hosted the Nonlethal Beaver Management Workshop. At the workshop, a group of Blackfeet Community College Native Science Fellows, Blackfeet Fish & Wildlife staff and game wardens, landowners, Montana Conservation Corps members, and partners of the project came together to learn about, build, and discuss different tools and strategies that can be used for nonlethal beaver management.
The workshop kicked off with presentations by Libby Khumalo (Center for Large Landscape Conservation), Jacob LeVitus (Big Sky Watershed Corps), and Amy Chadwick (Great West Engineering.) They discussed the context of the Ksik Stakii Project as part of the Blackfeet Climate Change Adaptation Plan, reported sites where challenges between humans and beavers exist in the Blackfeet Nation, and gave an overview of the technical construction and installation of nonlethal beaver management devices. After the presentations, we got started on the construction of a pond leveler.
A pond leveler is a device that is designed to lower high water, caused by a beaver dam, typically on private property. Team members will be running a PVC sewer pipe through a beaver dam on Willow Creek, just south of Browning, later this summer. The upstream end of the pipe will be protected by a large cage. We spent the greater portion of our morning building that cage.
While it was cold and rainy outside, the project team began the construction of the pond leveler cage inside the Blackfeet Fish & Wildlife office. Throughout the morning build, team members took turns hammering in staples and drilling the frame, made of 2” x 4” boards. Next, we built the metal cage around the frame using large fencing panels. The team effort was quick and thorough, as the device construction was completed before lunch.
After lunch, we headed to All Chiefs Park in Browning where we learned how to fence off trees that are at risk to beaver activity. A group of Blackfeet Fish & Wildlife employees, with their lifetime of fencing experience, worked to efficiently fence off a group of trees as the rainstorm continued. Tree fencing is a great method for keeping beavers away from a cluster of trees. Unfortunately, (for the humans), the next week, a beaver knocked part of the fence down with a large adjacent tree. Shortly after, the fallen tree was removed and the fence was repaired. The mishap served as a reminder that maintenance is important and wildlife can be both clever and highly unpredictable.
The Nonlethal Beaver Management Workshop offered a great combination of education, discussion, and hands-on collaboration. Working to find the balance of protecting beavers and conserving water while keeping private property, roads, and prized trees safe from unwanted beaver activity will help build resilience to climate change in the Blackfeet Nation.