The last 200 years of Anglo settlement and land use transformed the Methow watershed, like most
in the west, from a dynamic and complex system of streams and rivers into a relatively static,
simplified system. One of the sources of stream system simplification in the Methow watershed was
the intense trapping of beaver populations (Poole et al. 2001) that began here in the in the early 19th
By some estimates, 90% of beaver populations were removed to supply the intense
demand for fur in Europe and to create a “fur desert” to discourage colonization of land controlled
by Hudson’s Bay Company (Hammond 1993, Outwater 1996, Johnson and Chance 1974).
Poole et al. (2001) noted that beavers increased the complexity of stream channels where present
and that decimation of beavers (along with other factors) contributed to the simplification of stream
channels and subsequent reduction in thermal diversity, fish and wildlife habitat, and water storage.
Pollock et al. (2003) showed beaver dams measurably affected the rates of groundwater recharge
and stream discharge and retained enough sediment to cause measurable change in valley floor
Restoring native wildlife to places where they have been removed is comparably simple,
very cost effective, requires no permits, and is, by definition, ecologically compatible. In fact, this
technique has been functioning here for millennia, and only in the last 15 to 18 decades has the
process been interrupted with beaver removal. By returning key ecological agents to entire drainage
systems (where they were removed in the mid-19th century through intensive trapping), a very
substantial improvement is possible.