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Rancher Jay Wilde shares how he uses man-made beaver dams to increase water availability on his ranch

PHOTO COURTESY OF BEAVERWORKS
 - Rancher Jay Wilde recently shared how he has used beaver dam analogues, human-made beaver dams, to conserve water on his ranch.As drought conditions persist locally, some members of the agriculture community were recently provided some unique water conservation tips.

Jay Wilde, a rancher in Preston, Idaho, presented "BDAs, Beavers and Bonanza on an Idaho Ranch" earlier this month at the Crook County High School auditorium. The event centered on his story of stream restoration using beaver dam analogues (BDAs) on his ranch. The event was provided by Crooked River Watershed Council and BeaverWorks Oregon.

BDAs are temporary human-made beaver dams, explained Reese Mercer, program manager for BeaverWorks.

"It is really getting infrastructure in place in our smaller streams here that will help to hold back some of the water or help to re-wet the landscape as we have flows and snowmelts in the springtime," she said. "It keeps water in our watershed."

Mercer noted that the BDAs help get vegetation restarted on a water-starved landscape, and that vegetation provides food to the beavers and encourages them to come to the area and add onto the man-made structures.

"This is a process that took Mr. Wilde about 15 years to finish and really implement," Mercer said. "He had a vision of what it should be. He really felt like his land was broken, and it was his commitment and inspiration to really start healing the land."

The Crooked River Watershed Council supports the land restoration method, highlighting several ways it could help the local watershed.

"The council believes bringing beavers back to their former and appropriate habitats increases the overall amount of water retained in the watershed, raises groundwater levels in areas associated with beaver ponds, and makes for a more resilient landscape," said Chris Gannon, council coordinator for the Crook River Watershed Council. "Using tools such as BDAs to encourage beavers to set up a permanent presence may be necessary to create suitable conditions and bridge the time gap until they become established."

About 25 people attended the Sept. 14 event. Mercer said event organizers had hoped for a larger crowd but noted that the target audience – working landowners and producers – are in the busy part of their season. Nevertheless, those who attended gave positive reviews.

"I think what I heard from attendees was that they appreciated this natural approach to the landscape and his (Wilde's) holistic view of the ecology of the land that he has been living on for a really long time," Mercer said.

Those who were unable to attend the event can access the information provided by contacting the Crooked River Watershed or BeaverWorks. In addition, BeaverWorks is planning to host a follow-up event on Nov. 1.

"That would be one way that people can get more information," Mercer said.

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Learn more about beaver dam analogues at www.crwc.info/ or www.beaverworks.org/jay, or call 541-362-1024.


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