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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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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 17 May 2021

March: Water Superheroes

March: Water Superheroes

March: Water Superheroes
Saving the Dammed

Ellen Wohl

Oxford University Press

By mid-March, daytime temperatures above freezing have left muddy puddles all over the unpaved road that runs above and beside the beaver meadow. This road extends to the national park trailhead farther upstream but is now closed for winter. I enter the beaver meadow on a lightly overcast day that is windy, as I expect March to be. Lack of recent snowfall and warm temperatures have caused the snowpack to shrink down, and I no longer break through into hidden pockets of air around the base of the bushy willows. I do break through the ice on my snowshoes, sinking in a slow motion that allows me to scramble and keep my feet dry . . . mostly. I sink in above the ankle at one point and the resulting icy ache makes me appreciate the ability of beavers to stay warm. The snow covering the higher peaks and the adjacent lateral moraines appears about the same, but numerous spots of bare ground have appeared along the creek banks. The remaining snow resembles a blanket draped over the undulating, grassy ground rather than an integral part of the landscape. I stand on the snowbank at the downstream end of one of the larger beaver ponds. The dam merges into a vegetated berm and appears to be intact, but I can hear water flowing swiftly somewhere beneath the snow. Most puzzling is that I can’t see where the water is going: the nearest downstream standing water has no apparent inflow or current. Mysterious, intricate plumbing surrounds me. The beaver meadow is on the move, flowing and changing, preparing for the season of birth and growth. Standing water is noticeably more abundant than a month ago. Interspersed among the ice and snow are big puddles and little ponds, some connected and draining, others isolated and still. The still pond waters have a shallow covering of meltwater underlain by ice with large, irregularly shaped air pockets trapped in the upper layer. These I can easily break with the tip of my ski pole. Thousands of tiny bubbles deeper in the ice look milky.

Keywords:   Estes Park, Fish Creek, Glacier National Park, Lily Lake, Yellowstone National Park, connectivity, elk (Cervus elaphus), elk grassland

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