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Reintegrating the North American beaver ( Castor canadensis ) in the urban landscape

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In recent decades, ecological restoration and landscape architecture have focused on reintegrating ecological processes in the urban environment to support greater habitat complexity and increase biodiversity. As these values are more broadly recognized, new approaches are being investigated to increase ecosystem services and ecological benefits in urban areas. Ecosystem engineers, such as the North American beaver (Castor canadensis), can create complex habitat and influence ecological processes in natural environments. Through dam building and wetland formation, beaver can create fish habitat, diversify vegetation in riparian zones, and aggrade sediment to increase stream productivity. As beaver populations have increased in urban areas across North America, their presence presents challenges and opportunities. Beaver can be integrated into the design of new and established urban green spaces to improve ecosystem functions. If managed properly, the conflicts that beaver sometimes create can be minimized. In this paper, we examine how landscape architects and restoration ecologists are anticipating the geomorphic and hydrological implications of beaver reintroduction in the design of wetlands and urban natural areas at regional and site levels. We present an urban beaver map and three case studies in Seattle, WA, USA, to identify various approaches, successes, and management strategies for integrating the actions of beaver into project designs. We make recommendations for how designers can capitalize on the benefits of beaver by identifying sites with increased likelihood of colonization, leveraging ecosystem engineers in design conception, designing site features to reduce constraints for the reintroduction and establishment of beaver, and anticipating and managing impacts.

This article is categorized under:

  • Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
  • Engineering Water > Planning Water
The understanding and use of ecosystem engineers in restoration and design projects (solid blue line) can facilitate a greater level of ecosystem function. The dashed blue line represents a restoration project's level of success as it develops through time. By taking an interdisciplinary approach, design teams have the opportunity to consider and leverage ecosystem engineers (red line) as a restoration agent in restoration design to achieve the targeted level of success sooner. (Adapted with permission from Rottle and Yocom ())
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Pathways for integrating beaver into urban landscapes. Designed spaces where beaver colonization was not anticipated (a) incur high long‐term costs with little benefit when responding to subsequent colonization. Designed spaces that had either included design elements that allow potential colonization (b), or had incorporated elements that require colonization to function fully (c) are less costly over the long‐term and have greater levels of ecosystem services and ecological benefits
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Design plan for the creation of the Thornton Creek Confluence restoration project. The project was completed in 2014 as a floodplain reconnection and habitat creation project within the City of Seattle's largest urban catchment. Permanent beaver colonization has yet to occur; however, early signs of beaver activity have been identified (shown in red). The many woody instream structures (engineered log jams) and wide flood plain increase the ability for beaver to colonize and increase the future success of ecological function at the site. Adapted from Natural Systems Design (Seattle, WA, USA)
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Design plan for the Magnuson Park wetland complex, Seattle, WA. Completed in 2012, it includes a variety of water features including large ponds, wetland, and nonperennial vernal pools. Beaver colonized in 2014 and created additional ponding area within the areas originally designed to be wet meadows and vernal pools. Original design plans, adapted from the Berger Partnership (Seattle, WA, USA)
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Adaptation of the 1997 design plan for the creation of a lagoon at Golden Gardens Park, Seattle, WA, used in a restoration design. Beaver colonized the site in 2014, building a lodge and dam, increasing the lagoon height, surface water storage, and ecological function. Original design plan, adapted from Bruce Dees Associates (Tacoma, WA, USA)
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Surveys in 2015 identified active and recently active beaver colonies in most perennial natural streams in Seattle (WA, USA)
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Engineering Water > Planning Water
Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness

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