This case explores the Methow Beaver Project (MBP), an ambitious experiment to restore beaver (Castor canadensis) to a high mountain watershed in Washington State, USA. The Pacific Northwest is already experiencing weather regimes consistent with longer term climate projections, which predict longer and drier summers and stronger and wetter winter storms. Ironically, this combination makes imperative more water storage in one of the most heavily dammed regions in the nation. Although the positive role that beaver can play in watershed enhancement has been well known for decades, no project has previously attempted to re-introduce beaver on a watershed scale with a rigorous monitoring protocol designed to document improved water storage and temperature conditions needed for human uses and aquatic species. While the MBP has demonstrated that beaver can be re-introduced on a watershed scale, it has been much more difficult to scientifically demonstrate positive changes in water retention and stream temperature, given hydrologic complexity, unprecedented fire and floods, and the fact that beaver are highly mobile. This case study can help environmental studies students and natural resource policy professionals think about the broader challenges of diffuse, ecosystem services approaches to climate adaptation. Beaver-produced watershed improvements will remain difficult to quantify and verify, and thus will likely remain less attractive to water planners than conventional storage dams. But as climate conditions put additional pressure on such infrastructure, it is worth considering how beaver might be employed to augment watershed storage capacity, even if this capacity is likely to remain at least in part inscrutable.
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Article Case| December 31 2019
The Methow Beaver Project: the Challenges of an Ecosystem Services Experiment
Case Studies in the Environment (2019) 3 (1): 1–14.
Philip Brick, Kent Woodruff; The Methow Beaver Project: the Challenges of an Ecosystem Services Experiment. Case Studies in the Environment 31 December 2019; 3 (1): 1–14. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/cse.2017.001057
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