By Dylan McDowell
It’s on the Oregon state flag and a symbol for Oregon State University: the North American beaver (Castor canadensis). But how much do you really know about these semi-aquatic mammals? Likely, not a lot.
It turns out that not even scientists have a firm grasp on beaver ecology, despite the animal’s prominence in the Northwest. As a master’s student at Oregon State, Vanessa Petro is making a splash with her work on beaver relocation and habitat restoration in the Alsea River. Research throughout the United States has shown that beaver dams create important habitat niches for various species of animals, an important one being Coho salmon, which are declining along the West Coast.
In her project, Petro is capturing “nuisance” beavers and relocating them to sites where computer models predict that they will thrive, build dams and create beneficial Coho habitat. “A nuisance beaver is an individual or multiple individuals that are actually causing damage beyond a landowner’s level of tolerance,” Petro says. “Damage being: blocking culverts, building dams that are flooding out sections of their property, chewing, or felling valuable trees.”
This winter, Petro and her team have relocated 38 of these “nuisance” beavers and are monitoring their locations to understand survival, movement and habitat preferences. Prior to release, the researchers equip each beaver with a tail-mounted transmitter roughly the size of a cell phone, which helps locate and track the animals in their new environment. Petro and her team check on the beavers weekly, looking for activities that include building dams.
Petro says this is her favorite part of the project. “Every time I check on a beaver, I find it so interesting to see what they’re up to,” she says. “It’s a mystery to me, and every time I go out there, I find another piece of the puzzle that will help solve the mystery itself down the road.”
As the project continues, Petro says the goal of the work is not simply to relocate beavers but to understand how to do it effectively. With time, this project will fill important gaps in beaver ecology and potentially reduce human-wildlife conflict due to “nuisance” beavers.
For more information on Petro’s research, listen to the TerraTalk Podcast available above or on the Oregon State University iTunes-U channel.