Dam-Building Material Airlifted To Eager Wyoming Beavers
January 8, 2014
By J.R. Absher
There used to be a common wintertime joke that circulated among ranchers and outdoorsmen in the West when the weather was severe: “The government is dropping sheep from helicopters for the coyotes to eat.”
Joking aside, for more than a decade, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Parks Canada and Volker Stevin Ltd., have teamed up to drop the carcasses of animals killed during the winter on highways into the Western Canadian backcountry where they can be easily found by grizzlies when they emerge from their dens. The result has been a noted reduction in conflicts with humans and few cattle killed by the bruins during calving season.
In many urban and rural areas alike, beavers are considered a major pest, gnawing trees along creeks and drainages, while constructing dams that can flood private property and public roadways. Now, an innovative conservation project launched last month in Wyoming is not only encouraging beavers to do what they do best, it’s supplying them with tons of dam-building material and introducing additional buck-toothed critters.
The effort involves the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, rancher Pete Garrett and conservation groups, and is airlifting woody debris left behind by the unusually intense October snowstorm into areas along Bolton Creek, a tributary of the North Platte River, where eager beavers will use the material to construct dams that help control sediment-bearing high water.
The hope is that, over time, a line of beaver dams on the creek will slow water flows and reduce sediment levels in the North Platte—greatly enhancing trout spawn in the spring. The dams should also help to periodically flood the creek’s riparian habitat and help to re-establish cottonwood trees and other native growth to the now-barren landscape.
In the second week of November, a helicopter dumped hundreds of 1,500-pound loads of branches along the carved banks of Bolton Creek, not far from Casper. Interestingly, many of the beavers being introduced to Bolton Creek have been relocated from riparian area within the Casper city limits, where they had a knack for gnawing on trees in local parks, forcing city workers to wrap fence around trees and take other measures to mitigate the problem.
According to the state agency, the total cost of the project is $122,465. Game and Fish paid $26,500. Wyoming Fly Casters, the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, the Mule Deer Foundation, the Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition and the Great Plains Fish Habitat and Partnership donated the remaining funds.