State biologists have come up with a unique way to help local sage grouse populations.
Robbie Edgel works with the Watershed Restoration Initiative, which is part of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
His newest project? Constructing what he calls beaver dam analogs.
“Basically what it is, is human-constructed beaver dams. So we are working out in the Vernon, Utah area on a couple of creeks, the Vernon Creek and Little Valley Creek, where there has been a lot of channel incision and erosion of the streams over the years. Our goal is to try and raise the water table to get more meadow habitat and more flooding in the spring for sage grouse,” he said.
The sage grouse population in this area has been declining and Edgel thinks that one of the reasons could be a lack of critical wet meadow habitat.
“Sage grouse don’t really need a lot of water per se, but during the spring they need insects, they need bugs for their chicks to eat, which provides the needed protein for their development and survival," he said. "As we’ve looked at ways to increase this wet meadow habitat, beaver dams are a way that we think we can do that.”
Beavers are what biologists call an "ecosystem engineer." That means that they change the environment they live in, and help maintain critical habitat for other species. Beaver dams raise the water level of a stream which causes the stream to flood during spring runoff. The flooding allows grasses and forbs to grow and the much needed insect population to thrive.
“In this area we don’t have any beavers currently, and we’re not sure if there ever will be beavers.”
So for now, managers will have to step in and do the engineering for them. For more information on DWR habitat restoration, click here.