Banished to a Remote Idaho Valley, Beavers Created a Lush Wetland

A beaver.

A beaver. NASA / Boise State University

Beavers relocated to a remote Idaho valley have transformed the landscape into a lush wetland and a haven against fire and drought, satellite imagery shows.

In Idaho, beavers can be something of nuisance, chewing down trees and building dams that flood yards and fields. In the 1930s, officials began trapping beavers near cities and towns and dropping them — sometimes by parachute — into remote areas.

In one such area, Baugh Creek, beavers have visibly altered the landscape, as shown in newly released satellite imagery from NASA. Beavers erected dams that formed ponds and flooded meadows, supporting the growth of grasses and shrubs. A wide swath of vegetation now lines Baugh Creek, which is more verdant than other, nearby waterways.⁠

The Baugh Creek watershed.

The Baugh Creek watershed. NASA

Flooded stretches along Baugh Creek are well guarded against drought and fire. When the Sharps Fire burned through the area in 2018, it left unsinged those parts where beavers had settled.⁠

The wetlands around Baugh Creek after the 2018 Sharps Fire.

The wetlands around Baugh Creek after the 2018 Sharps Fire. Fairfax and Whittle

NASA is now supporting efforts to introduce more beavers to the landscape, using satellite data to determine which streams can support beavers and to monitor how resettled beavers alter the flow of water and the growth of plants.

“Prior to beaver trapping, beaver dams were just about everywhere in the West. So what we’re attempting to do is to bring beaver dam densities back to historic levels where possible,” said Wally Macfarlane, a researcher at Utah State University who is working to restore beavers in Idaho and beyond. “In doing so, we’re building important drought resiliency and restoring stream areas.”


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