Beaver (Castor canadensis) dam-building activities lead to a cascade of aquatic and riparian effects that increase the complexity of streams. As a result, beaver are increasingly being used as a critical component of passive stream and riparian restoration strategies. We developed the spatially-explicit Beaver Assessment and Restoration Tool (BRAT) to assess the capacity of the landscape in and around streams and rivers to support dam-building activity for beaver. Capacity was assessed in terms of readily available nation-wide GIS datasets to assess key habitat capacity indicators: water availability, relative abundance of preferred food/building materials and stream power. Beaver capacity was further refined by: 1) ungulate grazing capacity 2) proximity to human conflicts (e.g., irrigation diversions, settlements) 3) conservation/management objectives (endangered fish habitat) and 4) projected benefits related to beaver re-introductions (e.g., repair incisions). Fuzzy inference systems were used to assess the relative importance of these inputs which allowed explicit incorporation of uncertainty resulting from categorical ambiguity of inputs into the capacity model. Results indicate that beaver capacity varies widely within the study area, but follows predictable spatial patterns that correspond to distinct River Styles and landscape units. We present a case study application and verification/validation data from the Escalante River Watershed in southern Utah, and show how the models can be used to help resource managers develop and implement restoration and conservation strategies employing beaver that will have the greatest potential to yield increases in biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/joseph_wheaton/89/