LONGVIEW — The Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s beaver re-establishment project got a federal boost this year, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chose the tribe as a 2020 Tribal Wildlife Grant recipient.
The approximately $177,000 grant will allow the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department to survey habitat segments within the tributary sub-basins of the Lower Columbia River to help plan for strategic relocation of beaver into large areas of Southwest Washington, according to a Fish and Wildlife press release.
Beavers are a keystone species, meaning their presence in ecosystems greatly affects watershed function and all the other wildlife species around them, say wildlife experts.
“Releasing beaver on the landscape has great potential for ecological improvement,” a press release from the Tribe said. “Construction of dams by beaver, and associated ponds, significantly improves habitat for various aquatic and wetland dependent species.”
In addition, beaver dams help raise the surrounding water table, reduce water temperature and maintain flows in dry periods during the year, the press release said. That benefits many fish species, especially salmon and trout, and species that rely on wetland and slow water habitat like the threatened Oregon spotted frog.
“Beavers have historically played a significant role in maintaining the health of watersheds in the Pacific Northwest and act as key agents in the functioning of riparian ecology, the press release said.
The live trapping and relocating of “nuisance” beavers has long been recognized as a beneficial wildlife management practice and has been successfully used locally to restore and maintain stream ecosystems.
In the past, the Cowlitz Tribe has also worked with the Cascade Forest Conservancy to release beaver into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
This grant will allow the Cowlitz Indian Tribe to inventory existing beaver habitat in Southwest Washington on both private and public timber lands in the aboriginal lands of the Tribe, which extend across much of Southwest Washington.
The inventory includes field surveys that will see if computer-modeled beaver habitat sites are the same in reality, evaluate the habitat on the ground, quantify the quality of that habitat and map the resulting classification, according to the tribal press release.
The work will also ensure that potential beaver sites aren’t already occupied, according to a Fish and Wildlife press release.
Cowlitz chairman Harju said in a press release that beaver are important to the Cowlitz peoples, which is part of the drive to reintroduce them.
“Our culture and members depend upon a healthy ecosystem,” he said. “Beaver are a key species that enable the ecosystem to function properly. This project will lay foundational work for strategic beaver relocation to suitable habitat within the aboriginal lands of the tribe.”
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