Beaver-mediated ecology presentation at the Swaner EcoCenter will give the public something to chew on
What: ‘Worth a Dam? Beaver Dam Analogs and the Swaner Preserve’
When: 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21
Where: The Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Drive
Cost: Free, but registration is required
Marshall Wolf, a Utah State University doctorate graduate in the watershed science department and the ecology center, wants to give the public a taste of his research about understanding beaver-mediated changes to stream habitat and ecosystems on the Swaner Preserve.
He will give a presentation titled “Worth a Dam? Beaver Dam Analogs and the Swaner Preserve,” at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21, at the Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Drive at Kimball Junction. The event is free, but registration is required. To register, visit swanerecocenter.org.
Wolf will explain beaver dam analogs, which are human-made dams that diversify stream flows and help preserve water during the dry season.
“What these analogs do is help us look at water-quality impacts, baseflow storage and prolonged release,” he said. “It’s essentially trying to extend the water we have for a longer period of a year, and force the water out of the channel and into the soil where it will be stored and slowly released as the summer and dry season goes on.”
Beaver dam analogs start with wooden fence posts, he said.
“We use a hydraulic post pounder, which is the only big piece of machinery we use, to nail those fence posts two to three feet into the (ground) about a foot apart, and that way they will get locked into the streambed itself,” he said.
From there, a group of volunteers or students will stack rocks and larger pieces of wood against the posts, before they weave willow cuttings both perpendicular and parallel to the stream through the fence posts, Wolf said.
“Once we have those weaves going, we will add fine sediment — soil and grasses from the banks — to improve water retention,” he said. “It takes us two to three hours to complete one analog if we work with six or seven people.”
There are 13 beaver dam analogs in four complexes, or bases, along Kimball Creek, according to Wolf.
Wolf and his team of researchers selected these areas in hopes that beavers would colonize the complexes.
“We pinpointed areas that contained suitable vegetation for the beavers to eat and build dams with,” he said.
The team embarked on a walking tour of the stream and pinpointed sites that were more narrow than average so these analogs could backup more water, according to Wolf.
“We also looked to areas that had more willows, because we needed to use them to help build the analogs,” he said.
The analogs have also attracted other species, Wolf said.
“A few weeks after we built the first Kimball Creek site, I noticed a bunch of snipes, rare waterbirds, that started to reside in the wetland we created,” he said.
In addition to explaining the beaver dam analog, Wolf’s presentation will address beavers’ benefits and impacts on the local community, said Nell Larson, Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter executive director.
“Beavers are a hot topic in our community, and they can be pretty polarizing, because of some of the challenges they cause,” she said.
Some residents who live along the Rail Trail have reported flooding caused by beaver dams, and damage to trees and other vegetation due to the animals’ knack for chewing on trees, Larson said.
“They key is having healthy beaver habitats and populations where it’s appropriate and to manage impacts beavers have in places that are inappropriate,” she said. “So we wanted to bring Marshall down to create a community conversation about the possibilities of working with beavers when and where it’s appropriate.”
The group will discuss how to prevent beavers from chewing on trees and other vegetation, Larson said.
While an unknown number of active beavers currently live on the preserve, their presence is shown by the chewed twigs and natural slides they made to access streams and dam building, she said.
“Our installed motion-sensor cameras have also caught some beavers moving about as well,” she said. “Some years we will see more actively, some we’ll see less, but historically you would have seen rich beaver population in a place like the Swaner Preserve, with healthy willows that they used to build dams, and wetlands that are prime habitat for the species.”
Wolf said he couldn’t ask for a better place than the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter to conduct research and host his presentation.
“There is a lot of community engagement around the EcoCenter itself, and this gave us an opportunity to do a visible pilot project and enact meaningful change for the aquatic habitat,” he said. “This will be a good opportunity for people to bring up concerns they are passionate about, and there may be some cool research ideas that will come out of this meeting.”
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