Friday, December 1, 2023
A beaver holding facility in Cody. WGFD Image

New WGFD holding facility increases capacity for habitat improvement using beavers

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently completed construction of a structure that will aid in a long-term effort to improve riparian and stream habitat using beavers. The beaver holding facility, located at the regional office in Cody, will temporarily house nuisance beavers that are trapped from private land and then translocated to areas identified in need of habitat restoration. 

“Game and Fish routinely use beavers to improve habitat in Wyoming and this facility will grow the capacity for habitat enhancement using beavers in the northwest portion of our state,” said Jerry Altermatt, Cody Region terrestrial habitat biologist. “Over 80 beavers have been translocated in the Cody Region since 2018, resulting in at least eight successfully established colonies.”

Beavers, often called ecosystem engineers, provide many benefits to stream ecosystems. By building dams, beavers slow the movement of water, trapping sediment and slowly raising the stream bed over time—an important function to restore streams that have eroded downward.  The dams also raise the water table and expand riparian habitats, the areas adjacent to streams that can support water-loving plants like willows. This expansion of the riparian area benefits species like moose and mule deer that rely upon these habitats for food and cover.

To transplant beavers most successfully, biologists attempt to capture a breeding pair and their offspring. “Transplanting a family group increases the likelihood that the beavers will stay in the transplant location and establish successfully,” Altermatt said. “Sometimes this process can take time as the beavers are often caught one at a time.”

Biologists use a specialized trailer to temporarily hold beavers until most or all members of the family group can be captured. The trailers however are small and are only appropriate to house beavers for a short period of time. 

The new beaver holding facility is designed to hold up to four family groups and will increase the number of beavers translocated each year in the Cody Region and adjacent regions by quadrupling the capacity for trapping and holding beavers. “The facility provides a secure location to house beavers and allows for more flexibility for pausing and resuming trapping efforts as necessary to allow trap-shy beavers to settle down,” Altermatt said. In addition, the holding facility will allow the opportunity to pair up individuals that are not established mated pairs, improving the success of establishment after translocation.”

The facility materials were paid for entirely with private donations, and the facility was built by Game and Fish personnel. Mary Rumsy of Park County is the lead donor, contributing $60,000 to purchase concrete and building materials for the structure. The WYldlife Fund, a non-profit partner to Game and Fish, secured the funding for the engineering and design that included a $9,900 donation from the WYldlife Fund’s Signature Initiative, WYldlife for Tomorrow and matching funds from Wyoming Untrapped. 

“This is a small investment for the return in habitat work that beavers will provide,” Altermatt said.