A little over five years ago, a stretch of Sugar Creek in Siskiyou County’s pristine Scott Valley was completely dry. Today it’s a wetland teeming with life.
What caused this landscape to be so completely transformed in a relatively short amount of time? A team of biologists modeling the habits of a rotund rodent with a big overbite – the beaver.
Historically, the Scott Valley was referred to as “Beaver Valley” due to the abundance of the lumbering dam builders. However, by the mid-1800s the booming fur trade had wiped out most northern California beaver populations. In the 1930s, land managers began to realize beavers actually helped prevent flooding and stream degradation by creating multi-functional wetlands that attracted a wide variety of wildlife.
So beavers were reintroduced in creek drainages throughout the Sierra Nevada, but that didn’t have much of an effect on the Scott Valley further north.
A beaver glides silently in Sugar Creek near an analog. Beavers were reintroduced to the Sierra Nevada creek drainages in the 1930s as the benefits of their dams became more accepted. Credit: Charnna Gilmore/Scott River Watershed Council
Flash forward to 2014 when the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s habitat restoration team in Yreka was contacted by a private landowner who wanted to improve conditions in the dry stretch of Sugar Creek.