Beavers have become a source of inspiration for public and private land managers over the past decade. Beaver dams can help control flooding, raise groundwater levels, and improve surface water flows. Some land managers are now designing stream restoration projects that mimic the way beaver dams shape river ecosystems. Beaver-related restoration may even help the recovery of endangered species that depend on healthy aquatic and riparian areas.
The approach also holds promise for ranchers who graze livestock on rangelands in the Western United States where drier conditions are expected in the coming years. Those already experimenting with beaver-related restoration are discovering that it can increase water and forage availability for their livestock.
Until recently, the social factors that influence the success or failure of these projects on rangelands were not well understood. To assess the social and regulatory environment associated with this new approach, Susan Charnley, a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, and her colleagues conducted five case studies in California, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. Interviews with more than 100 ranchers, nongovernmental organizations, and regulatory agencies shed light on their attitudes and motivations, as well as the regulatory landscape that influences successful implementation. The findings are important for successfully implementing beaver-related restoration projects in other areas.
Kantor, Sylvia; Charnley, Susan. 2020. Ranchers, beavers, and stream restoration on western rangelands. Science Findings 229. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 5 p.