Dam the Wildfires: How Beavers Respond to Megafire Events 

Brandon Osorio, Joe Miller and Dr. Emily Fairfax 

Abstract

In recent years megafires (wildfires with a burn area greater than 100,000 acres) have become more common, rapidly burning through millions of acres across the American West each year. Extreme autumn fire weather conditions have already increased since the 20th century, with models suggesting that continued warming and seasonal drying trends will likely result in further increases in extreme fire weather conditions in the future. Wildfires cause billions of dollars worth of damage and cost billions more to fight, highlighting the need for an effective but cheap alternative to help reduce wildfire drivers and burn severity: e.g. beavers. Beavers significantly reshape riparian wetlands and alter the hydrological cycle. Their work in riparian zones brings many benefits to the ecosystem by supporting the growth of abundant vegetation. Beaver dams slow and store water which helps maintain riparian vegetation health through both regular dry seasons and extended droughts. We characterize the influence of beaver dams on riparian vegetation conditions – before, during, and after the 2020 Rocky Mountain megafires and use that to better understand how beaver activity influences fuel conditions. We use Google Earth Pro to map out beaver dams within three Rocky Mountain megafire perimeters (East Troublesome, Cameron Peak, and Mullen Fires); then use the remotely sensed Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to quantify how green and lush vegetation is in riparian areas with and without beaver dams, before, during, and after the fires. Our study provides important data for a variety of local, state, federal, and private land management agencies exploring new strategies for wildfire risk reduction.

Presentation

Session 3 – 4:30p.m. – 5:45p.m.

Room A – Sierra 1411

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