#MapMonday: Be Mindful of Beaver

Lindsay and our New Mexico Representative, Michael, discuss why it’s important to be mindful of beavers. These remarkable rodents are ecosystem engineers throughout North America, but their skills for creating wetlands are particularly notable in arid states like New Mexico. You can check out the story map here.

Click to view video transcript Lindsay: Welcome back for another Map Monday!

I hope you have all found fun and creative ways to stay out of the hot, hot summer heat. One of my favorite ways to stay cool is by splashing in the pool. Did you know that some of our greatest Olympic swimmers can swim over 5 MPH and hold their breath underwater for over 15 minutes?! Well, guess what? So can beaver!

Beaver are remarkable rodents that are known for their dam building skills. But those dams serve as much more than a shelter. Beaver dams can significantly modify the surrounding environment to provide amazing ecological and social benefits.

Dams change the flow of water to create wonderful wetlands. Almost half of all endangered and threatened species in North American rely on wetlands like these to survive. Because of this, Defenders of Wildlife works to restore beaver to their role as ecosystem engineers throughout the West and particularly in arid states like New Mexico.

Beaver used to live in almost every perennial stream in North America, but Europeans came over with a lust for high fashion, driving the demand for beaver pelts sky high and beaver populations down low.

Restoration of beaver to New Mexico’s rivers began in the 1930s. And while their numbers have rebounded, they have not fully reclaimed their historic habitat. In New Mexico, the habitat created by beaver is especially important for restoration of threatened and endangered species including the Gila Trout, the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the Southwest willow flycatcher, and the yellow-billed cuckoo. Beaver ponds also serve to improve the quality of water, slow flooding, and halt the spread of wildfires in fire-prone landscapes like New Mexico’s arid forests.

Beaver restoration in New Mexico (and beyond!) will be critical to ensuring healthy aquatic ecosystems for the benefit of humans and wildlife alike. However, despite their many benefits to ecological and social communities, beaver populations are heavily threatened by conflict with humans.

To build their dams, beaver may cut down charismatic trees that people value and dams may cause unwanted flooding and clog local infrastructure like culverts. Unfortunately, these “nuisance” beaver are often killed because of their actions.

The biggest steps forward are identifying locations for beaver to call home and promoting coexistence with beaver. Defenders of Wildlife is actively working on both of these solutions. Most recently, we have developed a mapping tool to help folks identify suitable habitat for beaver relocation. To share more about this effort, here is our New Mexico representative, Michael Dax.

Michael: Thanks, Lindsay.

Beavers play an important role as ecosystem engineers across the country, but in arid regions like the Southwest, their role is even more critical. Because water is scarce, biodiversity is concentrated around aquatic and riparian systems, and as the impacts of climate change like drought, shrinking snowpacks, and unnatural wildfire behavior increase, a healthy population of beavers will become even more important.

While many streams and rivers in New Mexico support healthy beaver populations, others do not, and often, the only way of reestablishing beavers in formerly occupied areas is through translocation.

To assist with this process, Defenders included potential relocation sites in our model, which accounts for rules established by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish by focusing only on streams with large segments of single ownership. The model also highlights critical habitat areas for federally endangered species like the Southwest willow flycatcher and occupied habitat of New Mexico’s imperiled state fish, the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout.

In the hands of land and wildlife managers, this tool will make it easier to strategically relocate beavers in places where they are most likely to be successful and have the highest conservation impact.

Check out the StoryMap and explore the model to better understand for yourself where beavers and other wildlife in New Mexico can thrive together.

Back to you Lindsay!

Lindsay: Thanks for sharing Michael!

Join Michael and the rest of Defenders in giving a dam about beaver!

You can do this by learning more about local beaver populations where you live, researching state and local policies protecting beaver or speaking to local wildlife and land managers about promoting beaver restoration in your favorite river or stream.

And thanks for tuning in to see how we can really make a splash with maps!

See you next #MapMonday.

Lindsay Rosa
Senior Conservation Scientist

As a Conservaion GIS Scientist with the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders, Lindsay leads geospatial analysis projects to improve conservation policies and practices.