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Restoring Streams One Beaver Dam at a Time

The beaver, master carpenters of the Animal Kingdom are building more than a luxury protective shelter to raise young and survive. Also known as ecosystem engineers, beaver dams beneficially alter the surrounding environment more than any other mammal. Biodiversity began to suffer as beaver populations diminished - but why? How is a structure built by America's largest rodent so important to the natural landscape? Human built dams, Beaver Dam Analogues, or BDAs, what are they and what is the purchase? Want to know the answers..... hear this episode on Soundcloud!

BDA Projects - Ravenkamp property, on an unnamed tributary to the Verdigris Creek.

Photo Caption: Ele Nugent and Casey Campbell with Ducks Unlimited, Austin Baldwin with Knox County Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Cassidy Wessel with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Photo by Becky Ravenkamp, landowner.

Photo Notes: Ravenkamp property, on an unnamed tributary to the Verdigris Creek. Each structure built had a slightly different objective based on the needs, opportunities, and available building materials in that reach of stream. This particular build was intended to slow the velocity of the stream and help the water find its way back into a dry side channel which connected it an off channel wetland. The posts themselves are untreated cedar, and the bushy green branches are eastern redcedar, which although it is a native species has begun to grow aggressively throughout the Great Plains in a century with no fire, and negatively impact habitat for many wildlife species and reduce rangeland productivity for cattle when they get too thick. One of the side benefits of the project is that we were able to remove thousands of little redcedars from the riparian area, which also benefits the riparian herbaceous community long term.

By the end of the day, the stream had re-connected itself to the off-channel wetland which was filling rapidly. Because the specific purpose of this particular structure was to reconnect the wetland it was into the bank, hoping the even under high flows water would be forced toward the wetland, and not cut as quickly through the bank around the structure.

BDA Project - Ravenkamp property Verdigris Creek, Knox County, NE

Photo Notes:

The objective is simply to slow the water and give it a chance to reconnect hydraulically with the floodplain, or, in simpler terms, let it soak back into the banks. The team selected this location because there was large woody debris already anchored into the banks from the floods of 2019. Not only does this give us a stable anchor and some material already on hand, but it likely means that we’re working on a spot where the stream already wants to naturally deposit debris. In this photo are Ang Wright, Casey Campbell, Tim Horst, Ducks Unlimited, and Becky Ravenkamp.

Photo Notes:

The before-and-after series shown above is directly upstream of the previous structure. Structures will slow the water down both above and below, so at times it’s appropriate to put several structures in close proximity to each other so they can help to support each other. Notice the immediate increase in stream width and depth. Also notice the small kicker structure which was added above. At low flows, the structure forces the momentum of the water into the bank to create a small undercut bank (important habitat for small stream fish), and to help feed a little additional sediment into the structure below.

Partners making this project happen!

  • Ducks Unlimited

  • Juniper Environmental

  • Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

  • Santee Sioux Nation EPA Division

  • Natural Resources Conservation Service

  • US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners Program

  • Northern Prairies Land Trust

  • Lewis and Clark Natural Resources District

  • Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever

BDA Project - Jerry Goschall Clover Cove

Photo Notes: Below: not all structures go all the way across. Some are meant to induce additional meandering by encouraging natural erosion processes that allow streams to return to equilibrium states through time. The landowner (Jerry Gotschall, far right) and the bison observe Jessica Householder (Juniper, far left) and the rest of the upstream construction team put the finishing touches on a build.

Photo by: Jen Corman.

Partners making this project happen!

  • Ducks Unlimited

  • Juniper Enviromental

  • Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

  • Pheasants Forever Quail Forever

  • Audubon of Kansas

  • NRCS Kansas

  • NRCS Nebraska (ONeill Office)

  • Soundhills Task Force

  • World Wildlife Fund

BDA Contacts

​Cassidy Wessel (Nebraska Game & Parks)

​Ele Nugent (Ducks Unlimited)

​Jessica Householder (Juniper Environmental, LLC)

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Brynn Jacobs
Brynn Jacobs

Great episode, thanks for all of the perspectives. My family just moved to 10 acres near Wahoo, Nebraska. Beavers moved into the creek in our property about the same time. What can I do to

support them while mitigating any potential downsides to my agricultural neighbors?

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