Beaver dams are gaining popularity as a low‐tech, low‐cost strategy to build climate resiliency at the landscape scale. My research from a case study in Nevada adds to the body of scientific literature showing how beavers can create and maintain wetlands that are resistant to both seasonal and multiyear droughts. Beavers slow and store water in their ponds, canals, and the surrounding soil during wet periods. Then, during dry periods the stored water is accessible to riparian vegetation, effectively “irrigating” the riparian zone. Whether or not this landscape wetting and drought buffering goes on to reduce or prevent burning during wildfires had been discussed anecdotally, but not examined in a scientific context. My recent research on 5 different fires in the American West indicates that it does: the beaver-dammed riparian zones in this study burned on average 3 times less than those without beaver. Perhaps instead of relying solely on human engineering and management to create and maintain fire‐resistant landscape patches, we could benefit from beaver’s ecosystem engineering to achieve the same goals at a lower cost.
Dr. Emily Fairfax
Environmental Science and Resource Management
California State University Channel Islands
Dr. Emily Fairfax is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Resource Management at California State University Channel Islands. Dr. Fairfax double majored in Chemistry and Physics as an undergraduate at Carleton College, then went on to earn a PhD in Geological Sciences from the University of Colorado Boulder. She uses a combination of remote sensing and field work to understand how beaver activity can create drought and fire-resistant patches in the landscape under a changing climate. Her colleagues and students can vouch that when Dr. Fairfax says she can talk about beavers all day, she’s not kidding.