HAILEY — Beaver dams are being built — by people — east of Hailey in the Little Wood River watershed on Baugh Creek, Sheep Creek and Hailey Creek.
About 20 people used chain saws, trucks, generators and hydraulic post-pounders to construct dams similar to those created by the industrious river-loving beavers. The goal: to build over 100 large woody-debris structures along five miles of creek to help the entire watershed recover from this summer’s Sharps Fire and its historic grazing impacts.
“Our initial objective was to quickly construct many small forms to catch sediment after the Sharps Fire, but the project evolved to improving stream health in the long run,” Terry Gregory of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said in a statement. “These woody structures can also create floodplain and areas for the stream to meander in places that had been severely down-cut.” In fact, this low-cost, minimal-impact approach is aligned with the way nature typically works and is designed to mimic beavers.
Beaver dams have proven to be very helpful for improving water quality, as well as increasing groundwater quantity. Nearby evidence of the benefit of beaver dam complexes can be seen in the upper sections of Baugh Creek. There, the creek and riparian vegetation were wet enough to escape burning during the fire. That habitat is now an oasis for the area’s wild inhabitants and a source of seeds and nutrients for regeneration.
Agencies with an interest in fish, wildlife, rangelands and water quality partnered to plan and construct these in-stream features to help with erosion control that is expected when spring run-off inundates the watershed. Contributors included the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission, the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, private landowners and volunteers.
From the private sector, Anabranch Solutions from Logan, Utah, was hired to design and help implement the restoration project. It has done similar projects in the Pacific Northwest to restore hydrology and stream function in degraded areas.
Other post-fire restoration treatments the Little Wood River watershed have been implemented on public lands by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Idaho Department of Lands after the Sharps Fire. Stewardship and restoration is one of the goals of the Pioneers Alliance — a group of landowners, agencies and organizations and community members who work to preserve the natural resources and cultural heritage of the Pioneer Mountains-Craters of the Moon landscape.
“I was really relieved to see this project take place and am thankful to for cooperation and support from all of the organizations,” Dan Brown, one of the private landowners who helped gather trees and materials for beaver dam structures on his property, said in a statement. “I used to fish in this area when I was a kid, and I think this project will create habitat in addition to stopping erosion. This should be a long-term improvement to the watershed.”