Monday, February 10, 2014

Habitat Abundant but Beaver Populations Low in New Mexico Mountains.

WildEarth Guardians has completed a state-funded assessment of potential beaver habitat on federal lands in New Mexico. The model determined that 82% of streams on public lands could support the dam-building ecosystem engineer. And yet surveys in the summer of 2012 found dangerously low numbers of beaver in northern New Mexico’s mountain streams and rivers. Beavers could inhabit more than 2,100 miles of streams on national forests and BLM lands in the state and provide countless benefits. While the assessment did not identify how many of these miles are currently occupied, a survey in the Jemez Mountains to assess the validity of the computer model used to do the assessment did not find beavers at any of 18 stream sites.

(photo credit: Joseph Thomas)

The report is being released just after Senator Tim Keller and Representative Bobby Gonzales introduced a memorial in the 2014 New Mexico legislative session calling on state natural resource agencies to develop joint recommendations on how to proceed with a statewide beaver management plan. Guardians hopes that the assessment will be used to identify and prioritize protection and restoration of streams and wetlands on public lands in New Mexico.

The beaver habitat assessment identifies potential, suitable, and currently occupied habitat. The model, as well as a full-day beaver and wetlands workshop, was the product of a contract with the New Mexico Environment Department. A Wetland Program Development Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the New Mexico Environment Department provided funding for the project.

Scientific research shows that beaver play a vital role in increasing river and wetland ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change. The dam-building beaver’s activities create a diversity of habitats and dams trap sediment, create and maintain wetlands, and modify nutrient and decomposition cycles. The presence of dam-building beaver reduces high flows and downstream flooding that can result in destructive erosion, provides more constant summer flows, elevates the water tables and improves riparian habitat. All these activities offer an effective climate change adaptation tool.

Before dam-building beaver populations can be replenished in New Mexico, a systematic and thorough assessment of both potential and suitable habitat and an identification of possible impediments to population recovery are needed. Using GIS technology, we identify all potential, suitable, and occupied dam-building beaver habitats on federal, public lands in New Mexico.  These outputs will facilitate efficient relocation of nuisance beaver and restoration of habitat to re-establish and augment wetlands in the state of New Mexico. Field observations conducted in the Jemez River Watershed within the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) and the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) confirmed that the model performs well but that beaver are presently absent from most suitable habitat on the forest.

New Mexico would benefit from a strategic plan for statewide beaver management designed to capture the full watershed benefits and minimize conflicts with human land uses.  Senator Keller and Representative Gonzales introduced Senate Memorial 4 in the 2014 New Mexico legislative session, which calls on state natural resource agencies to develop joint recommendations on how to proceed with a statewide beaver management plan.

Western states - including Oregon and Utah - recognizing the critical role dam-building beaver have in water management, aquatic ecosystems and wetland maintenance developed statewide beaver management plans. These plans written with diverse stakeholders set in motion strategic and intentional management of beaver to capitalize on their benefits while reducing conflict.

WildEarth Guardians intends to work with state agencies such as the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Environment Department and the State Forestry Division in the development of a beaver management plan to fully realize beaver and their ecosystem benefits.

1 comment:

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