Conserving Wild Water Through Nature's Engineers

In the full scorch of a brilliant Methow morning, a brunneous beaver paddles lazily about his concrete enclosure. The Schnauzer-sized rodent is one of four currently housed in this repurposed fish hatchery, dubbed the Methow Beaver Project. Designed to create natural reservoirs in anticipation of increasingly hot, dry climatic conditions, the organization is the brainchild of Kent Woodruff, a wildlife biologist with the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Service and self-professed “beaver believer”. His team works with locals to remove unwelcome beaver from drainage ditches and cattle pastures, then release these natural engineers into strategically chosen wild locations where they will hopefully create new wetland ecosystems.

This facility is merely the holding/mating site (as Kent puts it, “ for beavers”) but two days prior we went slogging through a marshy meadow that, thanks to two of the project’s furry alumni, now sustains a myriad of plant and animal species, including willow trees, trout, and even gray wolves. Woodruff, who himself resembles a grizzled silvertip badger, waxes dynamic before the fruits of his progeny’s labor, his raspy voice rising to a gruff guffaw before falling to a barely audible whisper. The scene is wonderfully picturesque: a verdant jungle of grasses and brush rising out of a layer of water knee-high to a tall man. The architects themselves aren’t visible, but the ripples of feeding fish and carnivorous tracks in the mud decisively validate the project’s slogan of “increasing stream diversity one beaver at a time."