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Eager for beavers in the Roaring Fork watershed? Pitkin County and USFS certainly are

A real beaver dam on Lincoln Creek, a major tributary of the upper Roaring Fork River. The dam was later swept away by high water.
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
An old beaver dam at Hallam Lake near the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies needs to be dismantled by naturalists every day, so the lake doesn't flood the facilities. Beaver dams allow for wetland and riparian habitats to thrive through their regulation of water flows.

Last summer, the White River National Forest spent $50,000 from Pitkin County to figure out where beavers are in the Roaring Fork Watershed — and where there could be more.

That funding paid for two seasonal Forest Service workers to visit a variety of sites around the watershed, mostly in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley, and determine whether beavers currently lived there, had once lived there, or had never lived there at all.

The Forest Service’s preliminary data suggests that beaver activity is greater in lower elevation areas with plenty of aspen, willow, and cottonwood trees.

During a meeting with Pitkin County commissioners last week, Clay Ramey, the fisheries biologist for White River National Forest, said there’s likely more capacity for beavers in the watershed.

“There are places on the landscape that we might be able to make a little better, by putting posts or structures in the creek that beavers can glom onto,” he said. “We can put beavers in those places and they might be likely to do well.”

Ramey said those structures, called beaver dam analogs, have been successful in mimicking the benefits of beaver dams in other ecosystems, and can encourage beavers to come to those areas to continue maintaining the BDAs.

Beavers provide a lot to riparian ecosystems, including stabilizing stream banks, regulating streamflow, and creating natural fire breaks.

In addition to identifying potential BDA sites, Ramey said this new data can also inform conversations with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who often relocate beavers that cause nuisances to private homeowners.

Intentionally relocating beavers from elsewhere is another potential solution local and federal agencies are considering to increase and improve the beaver population, along with the BDAs.

“I can tell them, like, ‘probably don't take them up Woody Creek like they're not going to make it there's no food, but Thompson Creek…,’ he explained. “So we can at least make better educated guesses about where beavers may be likely to do well”

Ramey said the sample size of the surveys taken in the summer of 2023 were a little smaller than he’d have liked, but he’s hoping to use this first round of data to get more resources to continue collecting data.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.