Partnering with Beaver to Restore Streams and Wetland in Colorado
“Hi, I’m Mark Beardsley from EcoMetrics in Colorado. I’m a restoration practitioner and a proud member of the Beaver Institute’s BeaverCorps program. In the Colorado Rocky Mountains where I live, we have thousands of miles of degraded streams. Healthy stream-wetland complexes are critical habitat on which most of our fish and wildlife species depend, and they are essential for watershed function.
I believe that degraded streams can be restored – not by trying to stabilize or control channels (the way I was taught 20 years ago), but by working with nature to heal ecosystems through process-based restoration. The clear solution to restoring streams like these is to bring back nature’s original ecosystem engineers, a keystone species. On streams where beaver have been absent, we use low-tech treatments such as vegetation management and BDAs to mimic the functions beavers would normally perform.
BDAs and other treatments that mimic beavers and beaver dams are an inexpensive and effective low-tech approach to restoring degraded streams. It’s hard work, but they are fun to build, too! Compared to the traditional channel design methods I was used to, the immediate response can be quite impressive.
There is ongoing debate about the value of mimicry as a restoration strategy in and of itself. In my opinion, mimicry is just a first step in real process-based restoration. PBR ultimately succeeds by promoting and sustaining real natural processes. We cannot expect to do what beavers do—at least not very well and not for very long—so save the big celebration for when the beavers come back.
We can restore degraded streams like this in Colorado and elsewhere, but to do it right we need beavers. Real ones. Beavers are vital partners in stream and wetland restoration, and we cannot succeed if we keep killing them and destroying their habitat.
Through a restoration partnership we call Riparian Reconnect, we are working to amplify the scale of process-based restoration to capitalize on this potential in Colorado’s headwaters. We are leading by example, and we hope that others will join us.”