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Smokey the Beaver: Beaver‐Dammed Riparian Corridors Stay Green During Wildfire Throughout the Western USA

Author(s): Emily Fairfax, Andrew Whittle
Year Published: 2021

Beaver dams are gaining popularity as a low‐tech, low‐cost strategy to build climate resiliency at the landscape scale. They slow and store water that can be accessed by riparian vegetation during dry periods, effectively protecting riparian ecosystems from droughts. Whether or not this protection extends to wildfire has been discussed anecdotally but has not been examined in a scientific context. We used remotely sensed Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data to compare riparian vegetation greenness in areas with and without beaver damming during wildfire. We include data from five large wildfires of varying burn severity and dominant landcover settings in the western USA in our analysis. We found that beaver‐dammed riparian corridors are relatively unaffected by wildfire when compared to similar riparian corridors without beaver damming. On average, the decrease in NDVI during fire in areas without beaver is 3.05 times as large as it is in areas with beaver. However, plant greenness rebounded in the year after wildfire regardless of beaver activity. Thus, we conclude that while beaver activity does not necessarily play a role in riparian vegetation post‐fire resilience, it does play a significant role in riparian vegetation fire resistance and refugia creation.

Citation: Fairfax, Emily; Whittle, Andrew. 2020. Smokey the Beaver: beaver-dammed riparian corridors stay green during wildfire throughout the western USA. Ecological Applications 30(8):e02225. https://doi.org/10.1002/bes2.1795
Topic(s): Fire & Wildlife, Mammals, Rodents
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 22561
FRAMES RCS number: 61921
Record updated: Feb 2, 2021