In southwest Montana, landowners, volunteers, and others are wading into streams and piling up sticks, branches, and sod to create artificial beaver dams.
“And it’s immensely satisfying because if you’re working in the spring, you build these structures and you just see the water back up right away,” says Pedro Marques of the Big Hole Watershed Committee.
He says beavers were once common in the region, and the dams they built slowed water and allowed it to soak into the soil, so the area was marshier.
But fur trappers decimated the beaver population. And with fewer beaver dams, snow melt that trickled slowly into rivers and streams started flowing more quickly downstream.
And climate change is making the problem worse.
As temperatures rise, more precipitation is falling as rain instead of snow. So instead of melting slowly throughout the spring and summer, the water now rushes into streams, draining out of the area quickly.
The structures Marques’s team is building mimic beaver dams. They slow the water down, so it seeps into the soil and helps provide moisture over time.
Marques hopes the new dams will attract real beavers.
“Eventually the beaver will find that place and take over what we’ve started,” he says. “That’s really the end goal.”
Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media