Putting Beavers to Work for Healthy Watersheds

Beavers are water bankers, meaning that between 30 and 60 percent of water in a watershed is held by the structures they create. And, that is only the water we can see. There is five to ten times more water stored beneath and adjacent to beaver ponds. Beavers are truly nature’s engineers. Their structures slow the movement of water downstream, allowing groundwater capture. Ultimately this means two to ten times more water in streams with beaver ponds versus those without. Most importantly, it also means that water is delivered in normal low-flow periods when fish and downstream water users need it most.

Using beavers to help solve our freshwater problem will require a shift in thinking. Currently, when beavers cause problems like cutting down prized trees or plugging up culverts, our solution is simply to kill them by lethally trapping them, blowing them up with dynamite, or shooting them. However, other jurisdictions have been convinced that allowing beavers to stay busy has had significant, positive impacts on their freshwater supply and watershed health. In the USA, a number of western states have been using beavers to improve water supplies, restore fisheries, adapt to climate change and bring back endangered species that depend on the habitat that beavers create.

The challenges we face in Southern Alberta are not unlike similar challenges faced in watersheds across Canada. Increasing climate variability will result in more frequent flood and drought events across the country. Demonstrating the role beavers can play in enhancing resiliency of our watersheds in Alberta can serve as a resource and tool for other jurisdictions across the country. We want to bring back the beaver through a collaborative, multi-year project called “Putting Beavers to Work.” The overall goal of the project is to increase the awareness of the benefits beavers create for our watersheds and to increase the willingness of land-owners, land managers and policy makers to coexist with beavers. In order to achieve this goal, there is an urgent need to address conflicts between land owners and land managers and this species.

There are a number of expected outcomes to this project, which span from knowledge generation, to knowledge translation and innovation. The first outcome is an increased understanding of the importance of beavers for groundwater recharge and storage which will inform our understanding of the role that beavers can play in managing water quantity. The second outcome is an increased understanding of the economic costs and benefits of beaver coexistence and reintroduction, which will enable land owners and land managers to make informed decisions about beaver coexistence. The third outcome is an increased understanding of the attitudes and tolerance limits toward beaver and their habitat and the role that incentives can play to encourage beaver coexistence. These three outcomes will inform the development of the fourth outcome - a beavers and watershed management toolkit- which will result in knowledge translation and innovation. The toolkit will share the results of the research components of this project in an accessible and meaningful way, providing land owners and land managers with the knowledge and tools to use beavers to realize both water quantity and quality goals. Alberta could be a leader in using beaver as a tool to realize watershed resiliency.

Project partners for Putting Beavers to Work include ALCES Group, Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area, Augustana Campus - University of Alberta, Cows and Fish and Miistakis.

Thank you to our generous funders: Alberta Ecotrust Foundation, the Adaptive Management Initiative, Calgary Foundation Flood Rebuilding Fund, Samuel Hanen Society for Resource Conservation, S.M. Blair Foundation and TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.

To learn more about this project, please contact Rachelle Haddock ( or 403.440.8444).

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