Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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Re-Instituting the Values of a Beaver Pond
Midwest Region, January 19, 2018
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Re-Created Beaver Pond
Re-Created Beaver Pond - Photo Credit: USFWS MNPLO

Reinstituting the Values of a Beaver Pond

Over the last several decades the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program has worked hard to restore wetland habitats across the country. Minnesota has been no exception and the Minnesota Private Lands Office has recently found a unique niche restoring less recognized wetland habitats that still hold important values for wildlife and the American people. Wetlands created by beavers have historically carried negative connotations and have been largely extirpated from our landscape. However, these wetlands provide incredible biological services. Therefore, biologists are now focusing on restoring these unique wetlands in Central and Northeastern Minnesota.

Prior to European settlement the Upper Midwest looked very different than it does today. One of the reasons for this was the presence of beavers and their influence on the landscape. Historical estimates of two hundred and sixty million beaver are thought to have once existed in the Upper Midwest. In fact, well known communities such as St. Cloud, Minnesota were founded on the fur trade industry with the primary market being beaver pelts. Unfortunately, from the 1600s through the 1800s beaver were systematically trapped by the thousands eliminating the thousands of acres of habitat they created. Today estimates of less than 10% of the historical beaver population remain, and their primary habitat of wetlands across small drainages and streams have disappeared with them.

A well placed wetland created by a beaver provides an incredible array of biological services. One of the most commonly recognized services is that it provides habitat for migratory birds. Millions of migratory birds utilize the Mississippi flyway each year. Wood ducks, mallards, teal, herons and egrets are among the few that actively seek these habitats for parts of their life cycle in regions such as central and northeastern Minnesota. A lesser known, but an important service these wetlands provide is improved water quality. Wetlands created by beavers have been documented to efficiently and effectively detoxify pollutants (like pesticides), reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, retain floodwater, lessens sediments and provide groundwater recharge to local aquifers. In fact, many hydrologists believe much of our water quality problems in the Mississippi River drainage today can be attributed to the loss of small wetlands like those that the beavers historically created. A reason is that our landscape and downstream habitats drastically changed in the 1800s with the institution of agriculture and associated ditching in coalition with the near extinction of the beaver. In principle, there was less to slow or filter the water as it moved down the drainage system. This partially resulted in what we see today with many polluted rivers and streams. Consequently, this also negatively affects habitat down the entire Mississippi River drainage and throughout much of the Gulf.

In an attempt to improve some of these problems the Partners Program’s Minnesota Private Lands Office began working with Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and local landowners to reinstitute these wetlands back on the landscape. This is being accomplished by first properly identifying former beaver dams/wetlands through local landowner accounts, soil surveys and aerial imagery. The Private Lands Office uses that information with creative restoration practices to successfully mimic wetlands created by the beavers. The result is a highly functional wetland system that carries similar biological services these types of wetlands once served. Wetland restorations such as these have been easy to sell to landowners because they are being restored in underutilized areas and have additional benefits such as increased hunting opportunities. Even local communities have been receptive to these restorations because of the increased wildlife habitat and improved water quality they provide. In fact, popularity is building and the Private Lands Office is applying these restorations across northeastern Minnesota at a growing pace.

The Minnesota Private Lands Office and partners are happy to see the increased popularity of these restorations and hope they will continue to increase in popularity. The Private Lands Office will also continue to develop new relationships to expand the efforts of these restorations. The Minnesota Private Lands Office goal is for this restoration technique continues to be developed and other regions and states begin utilizing it. This will ultimately show how these small restorations can be replicated across a larger landscape to make a positive impact on our nation’s water resources and our environment.

Contact Info: John Riens, 320-253-4682, John_Riens@fws.gov
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