Busy beavers building natural carbon storage
July 19, 2013

Outside of humans, beavers have more impact on landscapes than virtually any other species. Building dams and changing streams, they well deserve their busy reputation. Now a new study reveals those hardworking animals not only build dams but biocarbon storage as well. 

Ellen Wohl of Colorado State University reports her findings in an article accepted for Geophysical Research Letters, “Landscape-scale carbon storage associated with Beaver Dams.”

Laurence Pope of New Scientist summarizes the findings:

“Beaver dams cause water to breach riverbanks, creating areas of wetland known as beaver meadows, which contain large amounts of sediment and organic material. If the dam breaks the meadows dry out, exposing the material to the air and releasing some of the carbon stored within them.

“Using previously published carbon-content values, Wohl estimated the total organic content from dried-up beaver meadows in 27 drainage basins in Rocky Mountain National Park, and found it accounted for 8 per cent of the carbon in the landscape. She estimated that when the meadows were flooded they may have sequestered as much as 23 per cent of the carbon.”

This opens intriguing possibilities for improving natural carbon storage by restoring beaver populations. 

“Beaver numbers have been declining in the park since the 1940s,” Pope reports. “Wohl says there were once between 60 and 400 million beavers in North America . . . There are now thought to be 6 to 12 million, and the park service is working towards reintroduction.”

Beavers are an important biocarbon ally.  Bring them back!

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Author Bio

A founding member of the Climate Solutions team, Patrick developed the knowledge base for much of Climate Solutions’ advocacy work and helped shape the sustainability and clean tech agenda of key policymakers, researchers and business leaders around the Northwest. Patrick served as Research Director until the end of 2013, and has now moved on to work through his independent global sustainability consultancy, MROC, and serves as 350 Seattle Sustainable Solutions Working Group co-facilitator and member of its governing Hub.

His series of papers on clean-energy technology and Northwest economic opportunity from 1998-2002 helped catalyze the past decade’s wave of policy activity and investment in the clean economy sector.

Patrick also co-authored Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society, 2001) with Guy Dauncey.

Patrick likes to spend his free time walking, reading history, and playing music. He lives in Seattle and ventures south regularly to sing in a Portland rock band. 

Patrick's email is cascadia2012 (at)