Beaver dams slow down the flow of streams which recharges groundwater and creates deep ponds that provide habitat for fish and other aquatic life. Beaver dams also create floodplains that improve water quality and reduce the risk of flood damage to man-made structures. A single beaver is capable of storing 10 acre-feet (ca. 3.26 million gallons) of water in its lifetime 1. Natural water storage is a key way to adapt to both earlier spring snow melt as well as decreasing late summer stream flows (for more information about climate trends, go to this link).
While beavers and their dams are a vital part of any wetland ecosystem, they can also create conflict, particularly in urban and residential areas. During the Ksik Stakii Project we will demonstrate best beaver management practices and tools by applying beaver nuisance behavior mitigation techniques, such as beaver deceivers, head gate protection, and tree fencing.
Beaver mimicry is a restoration technique that has been gaining popularity due to its cheap and easy, yet effective application. By building small dams from natural materials such as willow and sod, beaver mimicry increases natural groundwater storage, reconnects floodplain, and restores wetlands. Groundwater, or water stored in aquifers, is particularly important for drought resilience due to its accessibility during drier periods such as late summer.
Underground aquifers can store more water than surface water storage techniques such as large dams and reservoirs. California’s Department of Water Resources estimated that the state’s groundwater storage capacity is between 850 million and 1.3 billion acre-feet while surface water storage is less than 50 million acre-feet in all major reservoirs 2.
Beavers and beaver mimicry assist in groundwater recharge. Groundwater provides drinking water for over 97% of the rural population in the United States 3 and is relied upon for livestock, irrigation and other industrial purposes 4.
Blackfeet Community College Native Science Fellows will have an opportunity to learn about beavers and beaver mimicry in the classroom and in the field. During the summer, these students will get hands-on experience constructing beaver dam analogues (BDAs) in the Blackfeet Nation. Throughout the project, we will monitor the streams and wetlands to see what changes occur due to beaver mimicry.
Beavers have been an integral part of Blackfeet culture for millennia. The Ksik Stakii Project is deeply rooted in that cultural connection. During the project, there will be a gathering for youth and elders to share stories and understanding about beavers and protecting our lands. This gathering will also serve as a forum to discuss the urgency and importance of climate change adaptation.
The Ksik Stakii (Beaver) Project is a partnership between Blackfeet Nation Fish and Wildlife, Blackfeet Community College, Blackfeet Environmental Office, and the Center for Large Landscape Conservation.
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Below, a beaver in the Blackfeet Nation slaps its tail on the water. Video provided by Jordan Kennedy.