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WWRC 86-05s
Beaver, Water Quality, and Riparian Systems


Studies are discussed which show that a complex of beaver dams can improve the quality of water flowing through them. Compared to stream sections above or below the dams, export from the complexes was estimated to be less by 50-75 percent for suspended solids, less by 20-65 percent for total phosphorus and total Kjeldahl nitrogen, and less by 20-25 percent for nitrate-nitrogen. Next, work is summarized which suggests that the presence of beaver dams also can protect riparian areas from erosive perturbations, if these perturbations are not too great.

In general discussions about riparian areas, climate and herbivory normally are mentioned as the important factors affecting riparian systems, and in altering them. However, data are reviewed which strongly implicate beaver as another significant regulatory factor in riparian systems; the removal of beaver during the past several centuries may have had unappreciated and far-reaching consequences. Thus in terms of management, almost any work enhancing our understanding of beaver and their interaction with the riparian system is of potential use. In some cases management using this knowledge or other can be inexpensive, but not always. Therefore, a major challenge associated with riparian areas in the coming decades is to politicians; they must devise mechanisms that 1) will allow use of initially expensive management schemes, 2) minimize "abuse" of the land, and 3) also will yield long-term profits.

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