The Original Ecological Engineer: How Can Beavers Help with Restoration and Resiliency of Streams and Riparian Areas

Michael Lighthiser, PE1 and Sydney Salzwedel, EIT, CFM2* 


1Biohabitats, Denver, CO, USA

2Biohabitats, Denver, CO, USA


Prevalent across the pre-European settled North American continent, beaver played a key role within riverine ecosystems with their direct influence on physical, chemical, and biological processes. Beavers provide benefits that include alleviating droughts and floods, lessening erosion, raising the water table, and providing habitat for many endangered and threatened species. The loss of beavers, along with changes in land use, had a huge impact on North America. Beaver population is now on the rise, and there is an opportunity for land managers to consider all the potential benefits they provide, and how to bring these benefits to an ecosystem. This idea has become integrated into the stream restoration design approach known as “process-based restoration”, which focuses on reengaging those physical, chemical, and biological processes that create a holistic and self-sustaining riverscape. Process-based design, specifically beaver mimicry, can be incorporated into stream restoration projects within different settings, urban and rural, to result in a more ecologically viable project. Existing projects in more rural settings in New Mexico and Colorado demonstrate “low-tech” approaches to beaver mimicry. There are also web-based tools available to assess beaver habitat suitability. Our team has found that several state parks in New Mexico appear to provide good beaver habitat, and observations made during field visits suggest that beaver are active in these parks. Applying the information gained from these other projects and field assessments, we developed a conceptual design for a beaver mimicry project in Fenton Lake State Park, New Mexico.