One of my favorite places to fish on the Arkansas is basically across the street from the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center near Salida. We’ve had many a good evening fishing a hole that is near a large beaver lodge not far from the bridge on Highway 291. The beaver that lives there, a large fellow, has often made it clear that he doesn’t like my evening fishing. He’ll come up out of the water, slap his tail, and disappear under the water. Coincidentally, I’ll move up to do some fishing from the bank. But his presence got me thinking — what’s the impact of the beaver population on Colorado streams?
The activity of beavers may be initially destructive because of felling trees and the flooding and altered flows of streams due to the dams, but the long term effects are mostly positive. One benefit is seen in the ponds behind the dams. These need to reach a depth of three feet so that they don’t freeze solid in our cold winter months. Those ponds, then, offer refuge for our fish in the winter and during low water levels. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife website reveals that beaver dams increase water quality downstream. They decrease turbidity by trapping sediment and producing clean water and clear gravel beds on which native fish spawn.
The Colorado Riparian Association writes that “Benefits associated with beaver activity include, but are not limited to, the creation of wetland areas, groundwater recharge and water table elevation, increased willow production and vegetative cover for riparian wildlife, [and] creation of pools and cool water habitat for fish….”
That’s right, they help our fisheries.
In addition, places like Rocky Mountain National Park thrive when beaver populations are high with increased dam-building activity. One recent study done in RMNP, though, shows that the beaver population has dwindled to only about 30 animals.
The video captures a beaver swimming near the bridge at Deckers. This guy, and the one near Salida, are a bit intimidating in their size and with the warning slaps of their tail when you try and catch that big brown trout at dusk. And, sure, they can be nuisance.
Beavers, like humans, are one of the few species of animals that intentionally alters the environment for his own use.
So, sure, they can be a nuisance for many landowners. But they are also a vital part of our Colorado mountain ecosystem and water systems.
Orvis 101 Introduction to Fly Fishing
Orvis 201 Streamside