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Leave It To Beavers To Help Salmon?

By Erin Loury, FISHBIO
06/02/15 -- Although seen by some as a nuisance, the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) may prove to be a misunderstood ally in the field of riparian habitat restoration. Recent research has shown a linkage between regional declines of both salmonid and beaver populations. Dr. Michael Pollack of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has studied the relationship between beavers and juvenile salmon for over a decade, with his first paper on the subject dating back to 2004 (Pollack et al. 2004) His research suggests that beaver ponds, like those found in the Stillaguamish River Basin in Washington, can benefit the river ecosystem as a whole.

Beaver caught in a rotary screw trap, FISHBIO photo
Beaver caught in a rotary screw trap, FISHBIO photo

Early research lead scientists to conclude that beaver dams were detrimental to anadromous fish, as they could pose significant barriers during migration. This lead to fisheries managers historically removing beaver dams (Pollack et al. 2004). Researchers from the University of Southampton re-examined this belief more recently by reviewing more than 100 peer-reviewed sources (Kemp et al. 2012). They found that beaver dams can inhibit migration, and can also increase siltation, which degrades salmon spawning habitat. However, many researchers agree that these short-term negative impacts are offset by a positive impacts these dams have on improving overall salmon habitat diversity. The ponds formed by beaver dams provide valuable juvenile rearing habitat to a wide array of salmonids.

Standing tree chewed by beavers, photo by FISHBIO
Beaver Tree, photo by FISHBIO

By creating ponds, beaver dams enhance rearing and over-wintering habitat that can shelter juvenile salmonids from high flow events. Studies conducted in streams along the Oregon coast suggest that the survival of juvenile winter-run Coho salmon (Onchorhynchus kisutch), which can be swept downstream by increased winter stream flow, depends on adequate slow-water habitat. The readily available food and protective environment in beaver ponds lead to increased salmon growth and survivability. Beaver activity can take a bite out of woody riparian vegetation, but in turn it increases the input of large woody debris to streams, which provides in-river habitat for a wide variety of species. Riverside beaver dens have the potential to increase erosion by reducing riverside vegetation. However, the sedimentation that accumulates in the ponds over time can also reduce the volume of material washed downstream that could impair downstream habitat. A study conducted in Wyoming showed that sediment loads were decreased by as much as 90% after flowing through an area with well developed riparian habitat and beaver dams.

This season, we saw a substantial increase in beaver activity at our resistance board weir site on the Tuolumne River. Technicians would often arrive to find a wide variety of twigs and branches strategically placed along the weir. Numerous trails were also visible at the site and further down the bank. The behavior we observed is similar to a study conducted in Bridge Creek, Oregon, where researchers sunk posts as pinch points where beavers could begin to construct their dams. The video above provides just a few examples of the types of behaviors we were able to observe as the beavers passed through the Vaki Riverwatcher. While beavers can often be troublemakers, these bucktoothed builders are an important part of a riparian ecosystem, and their busywork appears to make our rivers better.

FISHBIO is a dedicated group of research scientists, engineers, and technicians that specialize in counting, tracking, and analyzing trends in fish and wildlife populations throughout the world. An expert staff, technical capacity, and state-of-the-art equipment make FISHBIO a trailblazer in aquatic research. For more information, please visit

Fishing Reports

A Hot Summer’s Day on Chico Creek
A Hot Summer's Day on Chico Creek, Steven T. Callan
On Patrol by Steven T. Callan
07/25/16 -- I’ve been exploring Northern California’s streams -- above and below the surface -- for most of my life. One of my most memorable adventures took place on a hot summer’s day in 1964, not long after my sixteenth...Full Story
Brownie’s Choice
Art work by Isabella Langaman
By Don Webster
Disregard the story’s title. I don’t really have a “first” name. If I did, it would probably be something like Leviathan or Behemoth or maybe Lunker. Officially, I’m a trout. A brown trout. A giant, brown trout. Possibly the biggest, fattest...Full Story
Keddie Ridge
Scouting Deerheart Lake, photo by Phil Akers
Article and photos by Phil “Flip” Akers
11/14/15 -- Adjacent to both Lake Almanor and Mountain Meadows, between the towns of Westwood and Greenville, is a seemingly forgotten piece of backcountry; Keddie Ridge – aka Ridge World – where ancient rocks... Full Story
Let’s check out the Upper Sac
Lake Siskiyou with Mt. Shasta standing sentinel. photo by Phil Akers
Article and photos by Phil "Flip" Akers
09/06/15 -- The Upper Sacramento River – The Upper Sac – begins at Lake Siskiyou’s Box Canyon Dam and continues ~37 miles downstream to Lake Shasta. It is a classic freestone river born from the Mt. Shasta and Mt. Eddy... Full Story
How to make Tuscan Tuna Salad with Fennel By Frank Galusha
05/04/15 -- OK, you went ocean fishing. If your fish is fresh or if you have processed, vacuum packed and frozen your catch properly, there are many ways to enhance your meals. Almost everything taken from the ocean is not... Full Story
German brown trout afternoon in Modoc
german brown trout in Modoc creek.
By Lea Huetteman
09/04/14 -- Catching a German Brown Trout from the creeks in Modoc County is a fine way to spend an afternoon. There are many creeks in this part of California that drain the Warner Mountains. Stream trout fishing in this region opens...Full Story
Throw the kitchen sink at them
Indian Paintbrush is a favorite wildflower that carpets wilderness landscapes. Phil Flip Akers,
Article and photos by Phil Akers
08/20/14 -- Our wilderness areas are special, where Mother Nature is landlord and natural forces operate freely. Within the wilderness you will find no roads, shelters, picnic tables, toilets, or other conveniences. You enter at...Full Story
Humboldt Bay: Busy port, excellent fishery
Woodley Island Marina, Humboldt Bay, Eureka, California
03/06/04 -- Humboldt Bay, a busy commercial harbor and home port to many charter and private offshore fishing boats, is also popular with shore-based anglers and small boaters seeking bottomfish, sharks, crabs and clams...Full Story
Pulled into the pipes: Green Sturgeon
green sturgeon
By Erin Loury, FISHBIO
03/04/14 -- [Posted with permission of FISHBIO] Living in the Sacramento River can be a risky business for juvenile green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris). The young fish must swim through a gauntlet of water... Full Story
Not Just Any Fish
California Golden Trout, California Heritage Trout Challenge, Not Just Any Fish, Phil
By Phil "Flip" Akers
02/14/13 -- Trout have inhabited California waters from the Sierra Nevada and Warner Mountains to the Pacific Ocean since prehistoric times. However, most of the trout caught by anglers are either hatchery raised fish...Full Story


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