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Saving the DammedWhy We Need Beaver-Modified Ecosystems$
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Ellen Wohl

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190943523

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190943523.001.0001

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The Beaver Meadow on North St. Vrain Creek

The Beaver Meadow on North St. Vrain Creek

The Beaver Meadow on North St. Vrain Creek
Title Pages

Ellen Wohl

Oxford University Press

There is a place, about a mile long by a thousand feet wide, that lies in the heart of the Southern Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Here at the eastern margin of Rocky Mountain National Park, along a creek known as North St. Vrain, everything comes together to create a bead strung along the thread of the creek. The bead is a wider portion of the valley, a place where the rushing waters diffuse into a maze of channels and seep into the sediment flooring the valley. In summer the willows and river birch growing across the valley bottom glow a brighter hue of green among the darker conifers. In winter, subtle shades of orange and gold suffuse the bare willow stems protruding above the drifted snow. The bead holds a complex spatial mosaic composed of active stream channels; abandoned channels; newly built beaver dams bristling with gnawed-end pieces of wood; long-abandoned dams now covered with willows and grasses but still forming linear berms; ponds gradually filling with sediment in which sedges and rushes grow thickly; and narrow canals and holes hidden by tall grass: all of these reflect the activities of generations of beavers. This is a beaver meadow. The bead of the beaver meadow is partly hidden, tucked into a fold in this landscape of conifers and mountains. The approach is from Route 7, which runs north–south across the undulating topography of creeks flowing east toward the plains. Coming from the north, as I commonly do, you turn west into the North St. Vrain watershed on an unpaved road perched on a dry terrace above the creek. The road appears to be on the valley bottom, but beyond the terrace the valley floor drops another 20 feet or so to the level at which the creek flows. I instinctively pause at this drop-off. The conifer forest on the terrace is open and the walking is easy. The beaver meadow looks impenetrable and nearly is. I have to stoop, wade, crawl, wind, and bend my way through it, insinuating my body among the densely growing willow stems and thigh-high grasses.

Keywords:   Colorado Front Range, Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber), Tierra del Fuego, channelization, fur trade, nitrogen, phosphorus, pleistocene, tundra

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