All Things Beavers

Curious about beavers: Where do beavers live? What’s their impact on other wildlife? How do they impact the surrounding property where they live? When should we reintroduce them? Can you relocate a beaver? Are they a protected species in Oregon? How have the laws recently changed about beavers?

Listen to our interview with Maureen Thompson, the Manager of the Beaver Works program at Think Wild in Bend, Oregon.

Go to Beaver Works for news, volunteer events, and updates from ongoing projects – including trail camera highlights with adorable beavers in their natural habitat. You will also find them on Instagram and Facebook.


Maureen Thompson 0:20
They do so much good and like the rising tide lifts all species and that’s what’s open to study about them because so many things in ecology are just like doomsday crap, like cataloging, you know, the demise of everything. And for beavers, it’s basically just so much good news.

Kira Corbett 0:38
Joining us today is Maureen Thompson from Think Wild, who manages the Beaver Works program in supporting beavers in wildlife habitat on Oregon high desert landscapes. Well, Maureen, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m very excited to talk about Beaver’s.

Maureen Thompson 0:53
Me, too.

Kira Corbett 0:54
Are there beavers actually in Bend? And if so, where do they typically reside? In Bend, in the Pacific Northwest and even in Oregon?

Maureen Thompson 1:03
Yes. So there are beavers in the bend. There’s beavers on the main stem of the Deschutes on the little Deschutes and on Cumberland Creek. usually very easy to know if beavers live in an area. They usually make a giant log that extends, like, 5 to 7 feet above the water, which serves as their home base. And they’re famous as ecosystem engineers. And so through their building and maintenance of dams and canals, they have an outsized impact on the environment where they live. So you can usually see their work even if you don’t see them. I, for example, hardly ever see beavers, even though I study beavers because they are crepuscular too nocturnal. So unless you keep odd hours, you’re most likely to see them around dawn and dusk. But you can see them this time of year. Beavers don’t hibernate. Hibernate. So like us, they are less active in the winter, but they’re still awake and they need to eat every day. So, for example, my husband sees them almost every day near the old mill at 7 a.m.. thanks to a dedicated citizens scientist with beaver works, we have trail cameras at Shevlin Park, where you can see beavers. That might be, like, the easiest place to see them and see them in their habitat. So they have a series of dams and canals in the lower part of the Shevlin park. And we usually post it on our socials whenever we have like a new pulse of cool footage.

Kira Corbett 2:25
Whoa. I’ve seen a lot of the marmots, but, like, I don’t think I’ve actually seen a beaver in Bend. what about other places? Like, around organ? Is there certain, like, terrains or places that they gravitate towards? I mean, obviously places probably near water. And imagine with the dams.

Maureen Thompson 2:39
Oh yeah. beavers live all over the U.S., like up into Boreal Canada and into northern Mexico. that’s like their natural native range. And they show a lot of demographic plasticity in relation to time since establishment in an area and carrying capacity. this kind of means that they can live in a lot of places, but it just depends on if there is a reproducing family of beavers in that area to like fill out different sections of stream and to continue growing the population and the carrying capacity. So if they live, let’s say in eastern Oregon, where resources are pretty finite and are like spread across the landscape, it’s just less likely that breeding pair of beavers will have offspring that survive in that environment because they have to move on after a couple of years to start their own dam. And if that’s the oldest section in that area that has like deep enough water and resources. So basically human tolerance and resources are some limitations to population size, but they live all across Oregon and and beyond. They just occupy about 10 to 15% of what their historic range was.

Kira Corbett 3:55
I know the beavers are really important to restoring a lot of the wetlands. What impacts can beavers have on an area?

Maureen Thompson 4:02
So many so first of all, beavers build and maintain dams so they can have deep water that provides them access to their favorite foods and where they’re going to be safe against predators. So that’s the reason that they’re doing all of this stuff, like building the dam, which creates a pond, building canals that spread water out into the landscape. But because they’re doing this for them, it benefits us and so many animals that live on the landscape that need this habitat for certain life stages. And obviously every animal needs water. all the species on the Oregon Conservation Strategy list. this is a list that Oregon made to set out priorities and recommendations for addressing all the conservation needs of the species that live here. And beavers like directly or indirectly benefit about 40% of the species on that list. So just to like, make it illustrative, if you are a salamander and you need moist place to walk or dispersal from where you were born to somewhere else, if you think about a lot of places in Oregon, there’s like fast flowing water and then there’s just like crusty, deep dry vegetation above it. And in beaver habitat, that’s not the case. You have a moist floodplain with all these growing ripe areas and segments that need to live near water and it creates safe habitat for dispersal and living your life just not dying on your way to finding somewhere to live your adult life. So they just benefit so many species in so many of these little important ways.

Kira Corbett 5:35
Can they have negative impacts as well?

Maureen Thompson 5:38
Well, let’s say, you know, if you’re like a dry land species

Maureen Thompson 5:41
and a beaver builds a dam in an area and there’s like reduced upland space. And so that would if it was habitat.

Kira Corbett 5:48
Mm hmm.

Maureen Thompson 5:48
everything’s a tradeoff. But in general, they benefit a lot of species, even like people are really concerned about their impact on fish. This has been an issue that like, oh, the beaver dams make it so that way waters are warmer or have more algal growth or create a barrier to fish that are trying to swim upstream. And that’s a concern because like these species get so much protection and so many of their protection ponds are like really expensive projects that people want to make sure these like they’re not shooting themselves in the foot with any new changes to the landscape. But the verdict is generally these are concerns, but when it gets studied, the benefits outweigh any any negative impacts.

Kira Corbett 6:32
Yeah, it sounds like it. Do we need to reintroduce beavers? And if so, what would that look like?

Maureen Thompson 6:38
The relationship between the loss of riparian habitat and beaver range is iterative. So since many riparian areas are impaired by human stressors, they no longer support the conditions beavers need to survive, such as plants for food and building material. people are really interested in reintroductions of beavers. I think they do some here in Washington state that people get really inspired by. But in Oregon, number one, oh, DFW is really particular about relocation. And usually they say like it’s not a humane solution because the place that you want to remove a beaver that’s a problem on your property and you want it to go to an idyllic other place, but usually that idyllic other place already has beavers on it. That’s kind of why it’s beautiful understand the appeal, you want to take a problem and turn it into a solution. But really the problem is lack of suitable habitat. So that’s the side of the issue that Beaver works with. So we work to herald the natural return of beavers to challenging parts of their historic range, like in Central and eastern Oregon, by trying to promote both human tolerance of beavers, And we work on the habitat promotion. So riparian restoration, beaver dam analog installation. We do a lot of volunteer led projects with planting Willow and Cottonwood in areas. One of the main things that beavers need to survive when they explore a new area, if you are a young beaver dispersing from your home pond and they’re looking to eat or build with where you’re going, that’s going to be major barrier to success.

Kira Corbett 8:22
Something that’s I feel like kind of important. Are beavers technically, are they like a protected species or is there you mentioned like there’s a lot of advocating educating, but are they protected or is that are they endangered or are they kind of just they’re

Maureen Thompson 8:34
Oh, my gosh. Well, excellent bonus question, because actually the largest change in Oregon at the beginning of January. So HD three, four, six four went into law in January. It’s known as the Beaver Believer Belt, and it acknowledges the importance of keeping beavers on the landscape in mitigating all of these climate disasters that we are experiencing. And so previously in Oregon, you could shoot and kill a beaver on private property just like it was a wrap. So it was basically under a Department of Agriculture Category four rodents, but now it’s shifted to being managed by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as a wildlife species. And in addition to that, when you request a permit from your local DFW biologist, they are supposed to talk through the coexistence options and ask what else you tried. We’re trying to kill this beaver. And so that’s what one of the things that we do. It either works, which I think will be really important to the successful rollout of this bill, because there’s no one else in this area that does want systems solutions, which is like installing little devices and streams that allow you to maintain the beaver on site without experiencing property damage. And so we do cover protection and pond level areas and protection, all these things that basically facilitate peaceful coexistence with beavers that are cost effective, just effective in the long term. Because if you do have beaver problems on your property, I understand the beaver sounds like the direct solution, but really protecting your infrastructure is the direct solution. Because if one beaver like your property, another beaver is going to like it probably two years later and you’re just fighting this fight. I’m excited to see that the change that this has, just in instituting a new policy and sort of shifting the main stream window of what’s acceptable and that coexistence is really the first line. And then killing beavers is not the first option.

Kira Corbett 10:44
Yeah. Are we really curious to see where that goes?

Maureen Thompson 10:47
Yeah. I mean, people are really starting to recognize the ecological impacts of beavers. And so a lot of people on the east side of the Cascades call me asking sort of like what you ask, like what about beaver reintroduction? Like how can I get a beaver on this property?

Kira Corbett 11:02
Yeah, it sounds it sounds like Beaver Works is doing really well educating about those factors.

Maureen Thompson 11:06
I hope so.

Kira Corbett 11:08
Is there anything else you’d like to add or for people to know about beavers?

Maureen Thompson 11:11
Well, a lot of our projects are volunteer led majority of our habitat restoration efforts happen in the fall and spring, so people want to get involved in Beaver works. I would highly encourage them to sign up to volunteer on our website and subscribe to our volunteer calendar. We have a lot of willow harvesting dates set in February, which is an essential part of the habitat restoration that happens later in the spring. So I’d love to see new faces.

Kira Corbett 11:38
Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

Maureen Thompson 11:40
Well, thank you so much. So, so really

Kira Corbett 11:42
This is fun.

Maureen Thompson 11:43
Good questions.

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