March/April 2023

Montana Beaver Working Group
Connecting people and sharing resources to advance the beaver's keystone role
in watershed health

Beneath its covering of super-dense, waterproofed fur, a beaver's braincase is long, flat, and thick, making it a perfect icebreaker for seeking fresh air and food in the times when winter wears down. Photo Credit: Mike Digout

Stories and News

Strategic use of satellite imagery will help researchers and ranchers see a whole lot more wet, diverse, resilient landscapes like the above, thanks to the pioneering work of folks like Jodi Brandt (below) and Joe Wheaton. Photo Credis: Anna Webb

Expanding the Field: Beaver Habitat Monitoring on the Ground and in the Sky

Sometimes you can sense it, bushwhacking through a thick forest towards an unexpected light in the canopy. Sometimes you can hear it, alive in the distant red-winged blackbirds singing, or ducks splashing. Other times, all it takes is a step off the road to a stream. No matter the site, beaver-shaped habitats spark guttural intrigue within us, summoning the sense that we are entering another world. We don't just encounter beaver habitats, we experience them. The mere anticipation can swell our curiosity, knowing these places hold so much to learn.

As we have rediscovered the vitality of beaver habitats for diverse, resilient, climate-adapted ecosystems, science has rallied to understand their nuanced significance, ever honing the question: How do we actually monitor a beaver habitat? The answer depends on what kind of -ologist you ask. But as our methods strive to match the inherent complexity of these places, we're increasingly seeing that monitoring itself is a kind of keystone challenge, attracting varied insights that are both specialized and interdisciplinary. Can you analyze soil strata? Measure hyporheic exchange? Read a thermometer? Take photo points? Interpret lodge occupancy? No matter your monitoring niche, a beaver habitat has a home for your field skills.

In rural Idaho, beavers, ranchers, satellites, and two universities are also starting to align on this theme. Backed by a grant from NASA, Boise State University's Jodi Brandt and Utah State University's Joe Wheaton are drawing on satellite imagery and on-the-ground data to direct decision-making for beaver rewilding. This project will produce a series of apps that enhance photo-point monitoring, beaver habitat data collection, and more. This will be great news for people like Jay Wilde, a rancher who is always looking for efficient, effective ways to make sure his lands are hydrated through increasingly dynamic conditions. You can read more about this project and watch a short video of these partners in action here.

Do projects like these mean the end of topped waders and mud-smeared clipboards? No. Most certainly not. Field monitoring skills are more vital than ever, and whatever we glean from aerial/satellite imagery will always benefit from the confirmations and context of direct observation. But, when thoughtfully applied, these technological monitoring developments might spur opportunities for strategic, constructive observations that combine community science and local knowledge. Here in Montana, we have strong credentials in weaving the pioneering with the practical, as seen by our beaver monitoring projects with middle-schoolers, cutting-edge graduate research, and one of the most accessible, dynamic Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool (BRAT) models in the country...not to mention the dozens and dozens of us who are developing site-specific approaches in our home watersheds. What do you monitor in a beaver habitat? How? Why? Sharing our projects, techniques, successes, and failures (yes, failures teach us too!) has been a common theme of our newsletter, and we're always keen to hear how you're capturing data to enrich our collective understanding. Together, we are learning so much, and there's always a new wetland through the trees that is worth our attention.

Upcoming Events

Indigenous Leadership in Honoring and Caring for the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem

Crown Managers Partnership

March 13-17, 2023

Browning, Montana

The Crown Managers Partnership has a long history of convening impactful annual forums devoted to one of North America's most complex, intact, and fascinating ecosystems, and this year's gathering will advance efforts to:

  • Build relationships among Tribes, First Nations, and land

management organizations

  • Share stories of Indigenous leadership in caring for lands within the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem
  • Explore plans and pathways for Indigenous conservation leadership within the Crown of the Continent

This Browning-based, in-person event includes planning support and presentations from the Blackfeet Nation, including updates on their Ksik Stakii Project, which features beaver mimicry and coexistence. Check out the agenda and registration possibilities here.

Being Beaver: A Wildlife Tracker's Guide to a Keystone Species

Rob Rich

Tracker Certification North America Conference

March 18-19, 2023


Can you identify a beaver track or scat? How about a scent mound? And can you tell whether a lodge is actually inhabited? While some beaver signs are conspicuous, others can be subtle, and all of them yield ecological connections that are incredibly complex. Beavers can be cryptic, but the ability to interpret tracks and signs can offer nuanced insights about their occupancy and impact, which can in turn support informed decisions for conservation and coexistence. Rob Rich teaches and practices wildlife tracking in his work as a field naturalist, and he will present on this skill's relevance to beavers at the upcoming conference of Tracker Certification North America. You can learn more about this nonprofit and see the full conference agenda here.

Working with Beavers Symposium

Miistakis Institute, Working With Beavers / Cows and Fish

June 20-21, 2023

Nisku, Alberta

The Working with Beavers partnership is planning a third installment in its engaging series of symposia, which will take place from June 20-21, 2023. This collaborative initiative of the Miistakis Institute and Cows and Fish nonprofits has a longterm track record of connecting applied science to practical grassroots action, and this gathering will feature a combination of presentations, panel discussions, networking time, and field forays on all things beaver. You can stay updated on 2023 symposium details, review past symposia resources, and learn more about this impressive initiative here.


This concise graphical abstract is a fun, inspiring way to see the story at work in this science. Credit: Fedyń et al. 2023. Beyond beaver wetlands: The engineering activities of a semi-aquatic mammal mediate the species richness and abundance of terrestrial birds wintering in a temperate forest. Forest Ecology & Management.

Beyond Beaver Wetlands: The Engineering Activities of a Semi-Aquatic Mammal Mediate the Species Richness and Abundance of Terrestrial Birds Wintering in a Temperate Forest

Izabela Fedyń, et al.

Forest Ecology & Management

February 1, 2023

It's little surprise that beaver-shaped wetlands are a boon to birds like swans or wood ducks or common yellowthroats, who thrive on the various aquatic foods and nesting opportunities that beavers provide. But wintering birds? New research shows that yes, beavers provide rewards for birds in the colder seasons, too. And not just within the aquatic zones, but also in the adjacent terrestrial habitats, where an open canopy, variety in plant foods, and suitable roosting sites are more prevelant than they would be without beavers. Given the seasonal flux of temperate forests, the high mobility of avian communities, and the encompassing instability of our changing climate, this research extends the importance of beaver-shaped wetlands across even wider spatial and temporal scales. Read more about these exciting carry-over effects here.

Changing a Landscape to a Lifescape

Little Wild / Intermountain West Join Venture / NRCS / BLM / Open Range Consulting

January 5, 2023

The Humboldt Ranch in Nevada encompasses 140 miles of streams in northern Nevada. Following decades of grazing abuse, those riparian zones are coming back to life. Thanks to strategic, collaborative efforts to reduce the harmful effects of livestock, native plants are regenerating, beavers are returning, and the Lahontan cutthroat trout (listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act) has a more promising future. In the course of several jaw-dropping before-after photo sequences, this story makes clear that "it doesn't have to be an anomaly" and that ecologically sound decisions can scale up across the range, and the entire region of the Intermountain West. To learn more about the ripple effects of this strategic, collaborative effort, check out this video.

Leave it to Beaver

Tesia Lin, Western Confluence

September 2022

In the flood of good beaver news last fall, we overlooked this stellar story from the Western Confluence, a publication of the University of Montana's Rucklehaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources. That was a mistake, for it braids great themes and characters in landscapes so resonant with ours in Montana. This essay reminds us that the past has solutions for our challenges to come, and it inspires us to see how the beaver is the once and future healer to help us find the way forward. Read the full story here.


Job: Ecologist - River Design Group

River Design Group, Inc. (RDG) is seeking an Ecologist to join us in our Whitefish, Montana office. RDG is an interdisciplinary water resources consulting firm that focuses on the analysis, design and implementation of river, floodplain, and wetland restoration projects throughout the Northwest U.S. The ideal candidate will possess strong field, office, and geospatial analysis skills with a demonstrated background in the application of ecological and geospatial principles to river, floodplain, wetland, and riparian vegetation restoration projects. Learn more here.

Graduate Assistantship: Department of Watershed Sciences, Fluvial Habitats Center - Utah State University

This new graduate assistantship will work with Dr. Joe Wheaton on the project described in the lead story above. The student will play pivotal roles in the production and application of the project's technologies, and will work at the interface of science and practice. Application review has just recently begun, but if you're interested and ripe for this work, you can still apply here.

Please send photos, stories, upcoming events, and other resources to:

Shelby Weigand - Senior Coordinator, Riparan Connectivity National Wildlife Federation


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