This case study was developed as part of a larger, interdisciplinary research project to assess the social, hydrological, and ecological effects of beaver-related watershed restoration approaches in rangeland streams of the Western United States. It is one of five case studies being undertaken to investigate the social context of beaver-related restoration in western rangelands. The Scott River basin in northern California is the first place in the state where watershed restoration using beaver dam analogues (BDAs, instream post and vegetation-weave structures that mimic natural beaver dams) has been tried. The project takes place on private lands and in streams where federal Endangered Species Act-listed southern Oregon/northern California coast coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) spawn and rear in fresh water before migrating out to the ocean. It started in 2014 as an initiative of a local community group, the Scott River Watershed Council, with technical support from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist. Project goals include improving instream habitat for coho salmon to promote population recovery, improving surface water flows, raising groundwater levels, reducing stream channel incision, and demonstrating the value of BDAs as a restoration tool in California. To date, 10 BDA structures have been built at five sites on streams running through private property in the Scott River basin, and more are planned. Beavers have been active, or have taken over maintenance of BDAs, at all sites. Because this is the first project in California to use this restoration approach, and because the BDAs are being built in critical fish habitat, the project has been undertaken on an experimental basis. It has entailed a large learning curve on the part of the Scott River Watershed Council and federal and state regulatory agencies, but over time the regulatory process for permitting BDAs has gotten easier, and stakeholders are working together to collectively find solutions to ongoing BDA-related challenges. Most of the private landowners involved are ranchers who also grow hay, and who have largely positive views of beavers and beaver dams, so long as they do not interfere with irrigation infrastructure. Monitoring data and interviews with stakeholders indicate that the BDAs are starting to achieve their goals, and are benefitting both landowners and fish, although impacts are localized because the project remains small in scale owing to its experimental status. The Scott Valley case offers important lessons learned for undertaking beaver-related restoration in a private lands context.
Charnley, Susan. 2018. Beavers, landowners, and watershed restoration: experimenting with beaver dam analogues in the Scott River basin, California. Res. Pap. PNW-RP-613. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 38 p.