In the cool morning just off of the south Walmart parking lot, Utah State University adjunct professor Nick Bouwes and fluvial geomorphologist Elijah Portugal donned full-body suits to keep the water out of their clothes.
With water well past their waists, they certainly needed them to install the pond leveler, a system of fencing and pipe meant to mitigate the impact that resident beavers have on the surrounding developed area.
The project — a collaboration between USU, Logan City, the Bear River Watershed Council and others — came after months of planning and was installed only after the groups received permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to build on the wetlands.
The pond leveler is all part of a comprehensive management plan to deal with the ecosystem in that area.
“It’s exciting,” Bouwes said of the completion of the pond leveler. “This is a way … we recognize the benefits of beavers and to keep the beaver there and deal with the conflicts they’re causing; any way we can find examples of that in an urban setting like this is a positive step in the right direction.”
Bouwes wants the Cache Valley community to pay attention to this project.
“Looking for solutions that allow us to coexist with wildlife is a positive step for us to raise awareness of our environment and recognize the benefits that wildlife can provide to society,” Bouwes said.
“Living with beaver”
Bouwes explained while beavers can provide great ecological benefits, they can also do great harm to the areas where they live.
Unfortunately, he said, lethally trapping the beavers is a common option across the country.
“Often that’s not necessarily going to work because beavers come back,” Bouwes said. “Beavers from other locations can find a way to a vacant location, and (when we kill beavers) we also lose all benefits they could provide. We could be potentially trying to manage beavers when one, (killing) is not necessary or, two, it’s not all that cost-effective and three, the benefits they provide can often outweigh the costs. There are strategies to live with beaver in places where they may be perceived as a conflict. We call this a ‘living with beaver strategy’.”
There are a myriad of approaches to the “living with beaver strategy,” but the one USU, Walmart and others agreed on for this project is a pond leveler.
“This is a way in which we can prevent the pond from flooding infrastructure by controlling the pond level with our own plumbing,” Bouwes said.
The pond leveler works by allowing a flexible pipe to go through the beaver dam at the desired pond water level; the rest of the pipe is set below water level and the end of it is enclosed in a fence that is cage-like, designed to keep beaver from clogging the pond.
Bouwes believes if beavers can be kept in their natural habitat, they can provide a lot of benefits.
Those benefits are: storing water at high times of flows and releasing it through the summer; preventing flooding during storms by building wetlands that act as a buffer; capturing sediments, leaves and other materials that clog sewers and reduce water quality; and providing habitat for fish and birds.
“These are all values we desire in society that they can provide,” Bouwes said.
Pond leveler: a partnership project
The Bear River Watershed Council, the group that facilitated this project, learned about the situation during a Bear River celebration at Logan Park, where Walmart had a booth set up.
“The manager said they were doing trapping of the beaver here, and I knew what was going on at the university, so I put the two together, and helped them facilitate doing a study,” BRWC council member Dan Miller said. “It’s taken Walmart a while to adopt the plan … that’s our interest and what we’d like to see come of it, is the beaver to live here safely and provide the habitat beaver do.”
Miller noted the watershed council has organized a “beaver campaign” educating people about the positive effects of beaver in the ecosystem — including conducting projects like this.
“Beaver are critical and extremely important to the environment and especially with the climate changing and the potential drought, the dams beaver build retain water and give a slow release through the summer, which is extremely important for irrigators and downstream users,” Miller said. “Even these beavers here, the water they’ll retain and have a slow release into August is important for everyone downstream.”
Delia Garcia, Walmart spokeswoman, said in a prepared statement the company appreciates the work of the Utah State University Quinney College of Natural Resources and the Utah Conservation Corps in “addressing recurring concerns” regarding beaver activity in the creek beside the south Logan Walmart.
“Their expertise in the area of riparian habitat preservation and humane beaver deterrence has led to the implementation of a long-term strategy that addresses the potentially destructive impacts of unmanaged beaver dams while preserving the riparian habitat and cultivating a rich environment for the creek’s natural inhabitants,” Garcia said.