Beavers are a keystone species that have the ability to greatly influence many functions within an ecosystem. Beavers were nearly driven to extinction by trapping, but due to reduced economic incentives and modern regulations on trapping seasons and equipment, they have made a comeback in some areas of the western United States. However, in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and surrounding state and private lands, there are many areas beavers once occupied but are not currently found. Historically, beavers helped create and maintain aquatic systems in many parts of the forest, and without their presence, these areas have lost aquatic complexity and become more at-risk from climate impacts. Beavers are often thought of as a nuisance, but they are an important species that has the ability to greatly influence many functions within an ecosystem. They are shown to be effective aquatic restoration engineers, able to increase channel complexity, create instream habitat, stabilize hydrologic regimes, and capture fine sediment.
The Cascade Forest Conservancy, in partnership with Cowlitz Indian Tribe, embarked on a multi-year beaver reintroduction project in the spring of 2017. As of December 2019, the project team surveyed approximately 120 potential reintroduction sites in and around the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and released 21 beavers to four different sites. We are grateful to the 181 adult volunteers and 339 students who we engaged in habitat surveys and other fieldwork to help bring this important species back where it belongs.
View our spatial analysis model used to guide our on-the-ground site survey work here: GPNF Beaver Habitat Model
See what our Beaver Reintroduction Project looks like on the ground
Beaver dam analogues (BDAs) are structures made of wooden posts woven with willow and cottonwood branches that are designed to mimic the effects of natural beaver dams by slowing down water and creating pools for fish, new riparian areas for other species, and anchor points to attract beavers and help them establish new habitats.
Installing BDAs is an important part of our work to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change in Washington’s southern Cascades, such as drought. BDAs help protect against this possibility by storing water high in the upper areas of the system. And perhaps most importantly, BDAs create favorable habitat for beavers, making it easier for existing populations to expand into new areas or for reintroduced animals to successfully reestablish populations in their historic range.
Using our mapping systems and assistance from partners such as the Forest Service and Interfluve, we are working to identify areas where BDAs will help improve local habitat conditions.
A riparian area is the land that borders a body of water. Riparian areas are important for many wildlife species and serve a unique habitat role for a variety of native plants. Our riparian planting efforts are focused on rebuilding healthy riparian habitat along degraded waterways with a particular focus on areas important for climate resilience, as well as areas where hardwood planting can benefit future beaver populations. Since 2017, we have planted over 10,000 trees throughout the forest with the help of 185 volunteers. Project areas include: Trout Creek, Cispus River, Yellowjacket Creek, Ames Creek, Bee Tree Ponds, and a variety of small tributaries that will supply clear and cold water for the downstream wildlife.
The forests of Washington’s southern Cascades are criss-crossed by unpaved forest roads, some of which are well-maintained, and many that are not. Within the borders of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest alone, there are currently over 4,000 miles of roads–more than enough to drive from Mount St. Helens to Portland, Maine, and then to continue down to Washington D.C. Many of these roads were built between the years of 1950-1990, primarily for the heavy timber harvesting of the era. Since that time, needs for and uses of the system have shifted dramatically as timber harvest has declined and other uses, such as recreation, have grown.
The forest road system in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF) is in need of review. Roads fragment habitat, create barriers for fish, lead to increased sedimentation in streams, and increase human impacts on plant and animal communities. Road restoration (which includes both the closing of roads and the repair and update of old roads) is an important step for improving water quality, restoring fish and wildlife habitat, creating enhanced opportunities for experiencing wild lands and pristine forests, lessening the spread of invasive plant species, and supporting public access to key recreation areas.
The work of our road survey volunteers (carried out in 2014, 2015, and 2016) was instrumental in helping identify roads that were impacting aquatic habitat and prioritizing which roads were to be considered for closure through the Forest Service’s Upper Lewis River Roads Project. The plan identified 17.3 miles of road for closure and outlined steps to properly block the unclassified routes that have been illegally re-opened through OHV use and the circumventing of blockades.
Trees regularly fall into streams and rivers throughout the forest. This downed wood helps diversify aquatic ecosystems—creating deep pools and other important fish habitat. Due to factors like riparian logging and lumber recovery mistakenly intended to help improve stream conditions, today, many waterways no longer contain the wood they need.
Over the last few years, we have been working behind the scenes to build The Instream Wood Bank Network. This program addresses two significant problems outlined by restoration practitioners throughout the West: 1) a lack of instream wood and associated aquatic habitat for fish and other species, and 2) difficulty in sourcing wood for restoration projects without logging intact forests.
The Instream Wood Bank Network is a collaboration of landowners, state and federal agencies, tribes, and nonprofits that identifies and sources non-merchantable or fallen trees and uses a series of ‘wood banks’ to store wood until it is ready to be used for aquatic restoration work. The partnership includes a wide variety of restoration groups who will use the wood from the ‘banks’ to build instream habitat. In addition to supplying wood for the restoration projects of partner organizations, the network advances restoration in new areas by helping to prioritize, design, permit, and coordinate the installation of small and medium-size wood structures to increase restoration efforts in critical habitat areas not currently addressed through other efforts.
The Instream Wood Bank Network is a win-win-win for landowners, local economies, and conservation groups. It is a deeply collaborative project that brings together a variety of stakeholders and functions opportunistically to make our waterways healthier and more resilient.
Allowing hard rock mining in Washington’s southern Cascades would be an ecological disaster. Read about our work to prevent mining near Mount St Helens here.
The rivers of Washington are valued for their scenic beauty, pristine water quality, exceptional recreational opportunities, and as important fish habitat. Some of these rivers are critical habitat for fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including steelhead, salmon, and bull trout. Every year, Washington invests hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on salmon and steelhead recovery. These recovery efforts can be destroyed in minutes by suction dredge mining, a type of recreational mining that uses a suction dredge pump and hose to vacuum up the sediments on the river bottom to search for gold. Suction dredge mining also impacts fish habitat by stirring up sediment and toxic metals in the water, and destroying redds (spawning nests) and refugia.
The laws governing suction dredge mining leave the practice relatively unregulated in Washington, especially when compared to neighboring states. The current laws allow suction dredge mining on rivers throughout the state, including on rivers that are closed to fishing to protect endangered and threatened fish populations. To mine with a suction dredge, an operator only needs a copy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Gold and Fish pamphlet, which acts as a general permit.
Continuing to allow suction dredge mining under the current regulations poses a serious risk to fish populations and water quality throughout Washington. In 2014, the Cascade Forest Conservancy began working with the Fish Not Gold coalition to address the harmful impacts of suction dredge mining in Washington. We continue to advocate for suction dredge mining reform in Washington that requires individual permits, licensing fees, and enhanced protections for endangered and threatened fish populations.
Call or write your representative and ask them to support suction dredge mining reform in Washington. Look up your state representative’s contact information here.