By Jeff Burrell and Hilary Turner
Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation is excited to announce a new partnership with beaver researcher and hydrologist Jeff Burrell and a new project for interested Nature Mappers – Beaver Project! In Beaver Project, Nature Mappers will provide information about beaver sign they detect on the landscape in the Jackson Hole area. Read on for more information about Beaver Project from Jeff:
It is well documented that beavers provide a wide range of ecosystem services including benefits for water quality, water quantity, and fish and wildlife habitat. Beavers also make ecosystems more resilient to the impacts of climate change. These benefits include reducing peak stream flows, and so limiting erosion and damaging flashfloods; improving drought resilience and increasing ecologically beneficial natural water storage; stabilizing water temperatures; and creating/maintaining fire breaks and refugia from fires.
“More than ever, we need beavers doing what they do so well, but they need our help. Information provided by citizen scientists will help wildlife managers understand where beavers are on the landscape and what services they are providing. In Beaver Project we will gather this information by a simple process of field surveys and observations. Beavers leave behind a record of where they are or were active, and what they are or were doing. So not only can we learn about where they are now but where they were active in past. This will help us understand trends in beaver activities so federal and state agencies as well as private landowners can take actions to help ensure beaver conservation and restoration.”
Beaver Project Protocol:
Email email@example.com to be added to Beaver Project in your Nature Mapping account. Not a trained Nature Mapper? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for the August 24th training.
While out hiking along creeks, check waterways for beaver sign. If you see sign on the landscape, please consider Nature Mapping it.
If you see a live beaver, please use Casual Observations, rather than Beaver Project to document the sighting. Beaver Project is for sign only. If you observed a live beaver and beaver sign, you can indicate the live beaver in the notes section of the Beaver Project form.
Beaver activity indicators are conveniently grouped into the following categories. Because many beaver activity indicator persist through time, we can also group activities into current activities (within the past few months, recent activities (within the past year or two, or past activities (more than two years old).
Please view Jeff’s Beaver Sign Identification Seminar on our YouTube channel for more information.
In Nature Mapping Jackson Hole’s Beaver Project, check the boxes of all activity indicators you observe on the landscape, and their ages.
1. Clipping and girdling:
Beavers are famous for chewing wood to gather food and building materials. As they do so, beavers leave distinctive patterns of tooth marks. ‘Clipping’ means that the beaver directly chewed through the wood; ‘girdling’ means that the beaver partially chewed through the wood and then let wind and gravity do the rest.
Current: the wood has a fresh appearance (fresh wood color with sharp tooth marks)
Recent: the wood has changed to a darker color but still retains sharp markings
Past: the wood is much darker and more weathered in appearance with cracks and feathered markings
2. Food rafts, caches and feeding stations:
Beaver gather and store branches to eat (now or later). These branches will have the characteristic tooth marks of clipping and girdling, and can be grouped into age categories in the same fashion as clipping and girdling.
Beavers move branches from harvest location to ponds and streams. To do so they pull the material into the water; these activities leave behind a smooth ramp in the mud adjacent to the pond or stream. These ramps are ‘beaver slides.’
Current: the slide is very smooth in appearance with few if any other animal tracks
Recent: the slide is still somewhat smooth but will likely show other animal tracks
Past: hard to distinguish between a beaver slide and animal path, but the location will help identity as a beaver slide
4. Bank dens, bank lodges and free-standing lodges
A bank den is a simple home burrowed into the stream or river bank. A bank lodge is similar to a bank den but has been reinforced by beavers building a dome of branches and mud above the burrow. A free-standing lodge is a pile of branches reinforced with mud within the pond.
Bank den: current (fresh, maintained appearance with current clipping around the entrance, recent (similar but the entrance will show some degradation and only recent clippings, past (very degraded and likely at least partially collapsed.
Bank lodge: see above but now we can use appearance of reinforcing branches and mud to categorize as current, recent and past
Free-standing lodge: current (current clipping and fresh mud piled on top of branches, recent (recent clipping and mud at least partially washed away, past (past clipping and most if not all mud washed away
5. Scent mounds:
Beaver use piles of debris (leaves and twigs) and castoreum (a glandular scent) to mark territories.
Current: fresh leave and twig appearance and scent
Recent: appearance more weathered and little if any scent
Past: likely not identifiable as a scent mound
6. Tracks and scat:
These are the most ephemeral of the indicators we will use. Mainly note if observed
Current: fresh appearance
Recent: degraded appearance
Past: unlikely to be identified
Beavers excavate canals from the channel or pond to provide safe access to food resources.
Current: sharp boundaries with little vegetation overgrowth
Recent: boundaries less distinct with some vegetation over growth and partial collapse
Past: substantial over growth and collapse
Since dams are for the most part constructed from branches and mud, use appearance of these
Current: fresh cut branches and mud
Recent: recent branch appearance and mud partially washed away
Past: past branch appearance and mud mostly gone
Thank you for your contributions to this important data set. We look forward to understanding more about beaver distribution in Jackson Hole from our partnership with Jeff!