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.
On May 8th and 9th, the Ksik Stakii Project hosted its first official site visit. For two days, project team members, students, and community members came together to plan, discuss, and begin the implementation of the project that is designed to build resilience to climate change while connecting traditional ecological knowledge and western science.
Our site visit began in the field, where we looked at potential beaver mimicry sites along Willow Creek. Amy Chadwick, wetland ecologist with Great West Engineering, and Jordan Kennedy, graduate student at Harvard, contributed their specialized input at each of the sites. Kennedy pointed out the scars of old beaver dams, beaver-made canals, and lodges. Chadwick analyzed the effectiveness of beaver mimicry be at each site. Blackfeet Community College Native Science Fellows participated by asking engaging questions throughout the tour.
In the afternoon, we switched gears and visited sites where the Blackfeet Fish & Wildlife Department had documented challenges between humans and beavers. Keith Lame Bear, game warden for the Department, led the group on a tour of sites around Browning where management techniques could be used. We visited a residence where damming had caused unwanted flooding, a park where beavers had removed large, prized cottonwood and aspen trees, and a campground where beaver activity had been reported. Chadwick suggested nonlethal management devices such as a beaver deceiver and a pond leveler to decrease flooding and tree fencing to protect trees.
The evening gathering that followed the first day of site visit was an authentic demonstration of what makes this project unique. Helen Augare Carlson, a director at Blackfeet Community College, brought together a wide variety of community members and brought our attention to the focus of the meeting: examining our relationships to beavers. Kennedy and Chadwick provided fascinating presentations on beaver mimicry, nonlethal beaver management, and the utilization of drones to better understand why and how beavers behave the way that they do. Following the presentations, we discussed some of the challenges that are caused by beavers and brainstormed solutions. Then we took turns telling stories about our experiences with beavers while eating a delicious barbeque dinner provided by Joe Rutherford’s catering company. The room was packed with people coming from different backgrounds and different perspectives, but there was a mutual respect for the beaver among each and every participant. Throughout the gathering, there was a positive energy in the room that we carried with us into the next day.
For the final day of the event, we revisited one of the beaver mimicry sites for the first hands-on field work of the Ksik Stakii Project. Chadwick demonstrated the installation of a piezometer to a group of Native Science Fellows, Blackfeet Community College faculty, Montana Conservation Corps Blackfeet Crew leaders, and project team members. A piezometer is an instrument that is used to measure groundwater. Groundwater has become progressively more important, particularly during extended periods of drought, in the midst of climate change. After Chadwick’s demonstration, members of the group split off into small teams to install more piezometers. Teams worked quickly and efficiently to install five more piezometers before we concluded the two-day visit.
Throughout the first Ksik Stakii Project site visit, a vast amount of knowledge sharing occurred. Whether it was community members recalling their first beaver encounter, students learning about beaver mimicry and climate change, or landowners discussing the benefits and challenges of living among beavers, the lively group was united by a genuine appreciation of Ksik Stakii.
The Blackfeet Environmental Office hosted an Earth Day Festival at Blackfeet Community College on April 20th. Throughout the day, volunteers gave away free trees, shrubs, and gardening plants to community members. Volunteers also helped by grilling and serving a delicious outdoor lunch on the beautiful 54-degree sunny day. Kids got their faces painted, and door prizes were given away throughout the festival. Read More
Over the years, beavers have gained a reputation as “ecosystem engineers.” For millions of years, they have stayed busy building dams and lodges. After being severely threatened by the fur trade and seen as a nuisance species, conservation efforts changed the way people think about beavers and revitalized beaver populations. In part two of the Unbelievable Beaver Series, I will talk about the hard work beavers do to protect water and the hard work humans do to protect beavers. Read More
Beavers have been a critically important species throughout history. Their presence has unquestionably transformed global economics, culture, and ecosystems alike. A world without beavers would look totally unrecognizable. In part one of the three-part Unbelievable Beaver Series, I will talk about the fur trade and the significance of beavers in Blackfeet culture. Read More
I can’t think of a better way to be introduced to the frozen Montana winter than moving up from my home state of Texas during the crisp month of January. At the start of 2018 I swapped out my shorts and sandals for snow pants and insulated boots and I couldn’t be more excited. Read More
Thank you for visiting the Blackfeet Country and Climate Change blog. The blog’s purpose is to provide updates on The Beaver Project, which will be taking place during 2018 and 2019. Throughout the project, we will be featuring posts by partners who are collaborating on The Beaver Project. Read More