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Working with Beavers for Watershed Health

Beavers are an integral component of healthy riparian ecosystems. The National Wildlife Federation is working to bring beavers back to the landscape and to educate people on the many benefits of beaver restoration.


Beavers: Our Busiest Ecopartners

Beavers may be our most important partner in protecting and restoring western streams and watersheds. By building temporary dams on small streams, beavers slow down rainwater runoff and snowmelt. This replenishes groundwater and provides essential stream flows during the dry months in the late summer and fall to sustain year-round habitat for fish and wildlife (for example, more beavers equals more birds), as well as downstream water users. And, importantly, these “emerald refuges” protect valuable wildlife habitat when wildfires burn with increased intensity across western landscapes.

It’s likely that North America was once home to 100-200 million beavers, who literally shaped the landscape in which they lived. Intensive trapping starting in the 1700s reduced these numbers dramatically, and today there are only about 10-15 million beavers in this historic range. Our work revolves around changing that number for the well-being of the species and the riparian ecosystems that they benefit.

In 2018, National Wildlife Federation’s state and territory affiliates unanimously adopted a resolution supporting beaver restoration in western watersheds as a practical response to climate change. Our beaver restoration work includes advocacy for state and federal policies that incorporate beavers into watershed management and restoration, public education and outreach to engage people of all ages in beaver restoration, and collaborative on-the-ground habitat restoration projects to improve conditions for beavers to expand and thrive.

Thanks to a collaborative partnership between the Clark Fork Coalition, the National Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife, expert assistance is now available to public and private landowners seeking non-lethal approaches to manage beaver activity. Read here how we “make way for beavers."

We work with many partners to raise awareness about the benefits of beavers and opportunities to expand their habitat. Thanks to the Big Hole Watershed Committee for giving us a chance to talk about the value of beavers for watershed health in this video:

In a recent episode of The Artemis Podcast, Marcia Brownlee and Becca Aceto speak with Dr. Emily Fairfax about how beavers shape our landscape, support wildlife, and improve our watersheds whenever they slap a tail! Listen to the full episode here.  

In February, 2020, a diverse group of 50 professionals gathered in Butte, MT, to identify priority strategies for restoring beaver and beaver habitat in Montana and to commit to specific actions to advance beaver restoration for the benefit of Montana’s watersheds. Read the summary report developed at the meeting here. The group gathered again in a virtual workshop on March 19, 2021. See the Montana Beaver Action Plan 2021 Progress Report linked here and the group’s updated strategic priorities and team responsibilities in the 2021 Action Plan here.

The National Wildlife Federation is pleased to be the host of the Montana Beaver Working Group, connecting and providing resources to people interested in the role of beavers in watershed and riparian health. Read our recent newsletters here:

Read more about the connections between beavers, water, and healthy landscapes, and check out the resources below for more information.

Please contact Sarah Bates at to receive the latest email news and updates.

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Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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