From the Desk of TU’s Alan Moore: Interested in joining the North Coast Beaver Brigade for a day of tree planting and shenanigans on Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Stanley Marsh Project Site just outside of Seaside? Drop a note to Michael with Tualatin Valley TU at email@example.com or Alan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Carpooling from Portland available and encouraged. With sufficient interest, we may even fire up the North Coast Beaver Bus.
Prologue: Two beavers walk into a house, one leaves the door open. “Shut the dam door!” says the other. That’s your beaver joke, OK? Grow up. Now let’s get buck wild.
When we talked wild coho habitat on the North Oregon Coast a couple of days ago here, we talked about silvers’ need for slow, slackwater areas off the main channel or on the edges for fry and parr to feed, ride out high-flow events, conserve energy, and grow into big angry smolts before heading down to the salt.
Beavers make that habitat, and they do it better, cheaper, and a gajillion times more efficiently than humans could ever hope to. The little buggers are aggressive too, and busy. They work at night, on holidays, and in all kinds of weather. Don’t eat much. Just some ol’ wood’l do.
Ever-growing stacks of science bears this relationship out, and the numbers are pretty much just nuts. We’re talking percentages up into the 80s and 90s of coho production potential lost in areas where beavers have been eradicated, and conversely, similar numbers of gains where they’ve been restored – way better than human-engineered projects, often off-the-page better. And when you consider that North American beaver populations have gone from anywhere from 100 million or two down to a few million since we started trapping the crap out of them back in the late 1800s, it’s not a stretch to translate that into a big hit against wild salmon.
In a joint project between The Tualatin Valley Chapter of TU, the North Coast Land Conservancy and the Jubitz Family Foundation just outside of Seaside, Ore., we’re restoring wild salmon habitat simply by making it hospitable to beavers, then leaving them alone to do all the work.
Stanley Marsh, just off Neawanna Creek in the Necanicum River watershed, was once a tidally influenced wetland of a dozen or two acres and a veritable a smorgasbord of native wetland plants and animals, including, undoubtedly, stunning numbers of juvenile wild salmon and trout. Over time we drained and filled it, and brought in invasive non-native plants, and for a time, according to local lore, thoroughbred horses owned by Adam West. Yes, THAT Adam West.
Recently, the NCLC acquired Stanley Marsh and an adjacent highly productive wild coho spawning creek, saving both from development in what is now a semi-urban setting. A herd of 40 or so elk still lives there, hanging in the bottom in the trees near the creek in the mornings before scrambling up the hill into the timber during daylight.
A perennial stream – ok, dammit, a ditch – surrounding the property captures much of the water coming off the steep hillside above, and hydrology tests by the NCLC have shown there’s more than adequate flows to re-inundate the marsh and keep it wet year-round. All that’s needed is some help from the beavers to back that flow up and push it sideways, re-filling the marsh and the connection to Neawanna Creek. We’ve had beavers building dams in the ditch for a couple of years now: they’re even using nasty non-native Himalayan blackberry in their dams – testament to their resourcefulness and can-do attitude. But they won’t stick around if there isn’t ample wood on hand, and that’s where we come in.
TU has been working with the NCLC’s Celeste Coulter and local award-winning wetland ecology Jedi Doug Ray planting willow and alder by the ton to make sure the beaver population dabbling in Stanley Marsh makes a permanent home there, has many baby beavers, and tells all their eager friends. Willow plantings will be protected from browsing till mature, after which time they’ll keep coming back even when gnawed down to nubs. The tree plantings will be complimented by a comprehensive native plant revegetation program so that over time as the marsh fills with water courtesy of the beavers’ front teeth. With any good fortune, before too long we’ll have a restored nursery to rear all of the juvenile wild coho emerging from the gravels, literally right across the street.