Beavers helping creek, bugging Snowmass ranchers? |

Beavers helping creek, bugging Snowmass ranchers?

Charles AgarAspen CorrespondentVail, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen TimesA beaver lodge stands amongst the scrub oak along Brush Creek Road near Snowmass.

SNOWMASS, Colorado Beavers are back on Brush Creek near Snowmass Village.But while the critters activities benefit the local ecological system, beaver dams can disturb the flow of water to neighboring ranches, according to Dale Will, Pitkin County’s open space and trails director.The beavers have caught the attention of elected officials, too. Pitkin County commissioners recently dedicated $90,000 toward finding a solution that both preserves beaver habitat and protects ranchers water rights.Historically, when beavers become a nuisance ranchers either shoot the animals or destroy their dams, Will said. But since Pitkin County Open Space and Trails acquired some 232 acres along Brush Creek in 2004, the beaver population has boomed.Since were not out there killing beavers, theyre back, Will said.The area downstream of the Snowmass Village roundabout has become a patchwork of neatly-stacked beaver dams and cascading ponds. The dams create wetlands, fill underground aquifers and filter sediments by slowing down fast-running water, Will said.Theres a lot of ecological benefit to having beavers around, he said.But the dams can also flood the ditches or block water from getting in. Either way, ranchers have no control over the water flow, Will said.Beavers build dams when they see running water, Bill Blakeslee, a water commissioner for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, . He suggested a system with a perforated pipe drawing water from the bottom of a beaver pond to feed the ditch.Ranchers have the right to protect that ditch and that water right, Blakeslee said.Blakeslee said there are more beavers in the valley than we know what to do with, and the animals can be a menace.Its an ongoing battle for people who have ditches on these tributaries, Blakeslee said.In the summer of 2007, open space staff used a small back hoe to knock down a large dam, but county officials hope to find a more long-term fix, Will said.

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