Support for Beaver Restoration in Western Watersheds as a Practical Response to Climate Change

Number 2018-09

WHEREAS, climate change is expected to increase drought and reduce snow pack in the western U.S., where the majority of rivers are snow- and glacier-fed; and

WHEREAS, lower streamflows and higher-temperature water will negatively impact coldwater fish and other aquatic organisms, and reduced wetlands and changes in vegetation will impact mammals and birds, and these changes will limit opportunities for anglers, hunters, and recreational boaters; and

WHEREAS, restoring Western streams and wetlands to protect vulnerable species and valuable human uses requires multiple strategies, including expanded natural storage; and

WHEREAS, beavers were once widespread across North America, where they shaped the landscape, influenced patterns of human settlement and trade, and provided important cultural identity, but were extirpated over most of their range through market trapping and habitat loss between the late 1700s and early 1900s; and

WHEREAS, beaver populations today are a fraction of their original numbers, with widespread but isolated populations and many watersheds lacking beaver altogether; and

WHEREAS, beavers are described as “ecosystem engineers” because their dam-building activity impounds water and retains sediment, changing the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of their ecosystem, and these activities result in groundwater recharge, expanded riparian and wetlands habitat, increased habitat complexity, reduced peak flows and enhanced late-season flows, all helping to counter the impacts of climate change on fish and wildlife habitat; and

WHEREAS, these benefits can be achieved by relocating beavers and constructing mimicry structures to expand habitat for natural recolonization; and

WHEREAS, peer-reviewed research from beaver relocation and beaver mimicry confirms the benefits to fish and wildlife habitat and the promise for more widespread adoption to address climate impacts on western watersheds, particularly on public land headwaters where impacts of climate change are already documented and projected to worsen; and

WHEREAS, the state of Utah has adopted a beaver management plan that actively embraces restoration as a goal and delineates goals and protocols for restoring beavers in identified watersheds, but this is the exception in the western United States, where beavers are still viewed primarily as a nuisance species, rather than a climate adaptation partner.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the National Wildlife Federation at its annual meeting assembled June 6-9, 2018, in Chantilly, Virginia, supports and urges (1) western state wildlife agencies’ adoption of beaver management plans and policies that facilitate restoration of beavers to public land headwaters and other historic habitat; and (2) federal agencies’ planning and management actions including beaver restoration as a key component of climate adaptation.