REVIVING NATURAL PROCESSES
TO RESTORE ECOLOGICAL HEALTH
When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the harvest it is capable.
– Aldo Leopold
A flow device prevents beavers from
plugging this culvert near Crested Butte.
COEXISTENCE AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION
The problem with beavers is that they think every stream and wetland should be natural, but people need a place too, and this sometimes invites conflict. Partnering with beaver means managing them to protect people, property, and infrastructure. Coexistence is key.
Mark is a member of the Beaver Institute Beaver Corps, trained and mentored by Mike Callahan in the installation of flow devices and other coexistence measures.
EcoMetrics is a small group of applied scientists united in the mission of improving ecological health for people and nature. Mark Beardsley has a master’s degree in ecology and bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology. Jessica Doran has a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in wildlife and conservation biology. Mark and Jessica have been working together since the 1990s and formed EcoMetrics to apply our passion for natural science in restoration. Over the past 20 years, we’ve applied scientific methods to monitor dozens of projects in Colorado mountain headwaters, and we’ve seen what tends to work and what doesn’t. Dave Sutherland came to EcoMetrics after a full career at the forefront of geodetic surveying. In addition to being the smartest guy we’ve ever met, Dave brought the technical expertise that allowed us to up the scale of monitoring and assessment using sophisticated survey and mapping techniques, remote sensing, and drones.
We haven’t given up on nature. We think restoration should be an ecological healing process and a logical extension of environmental ethics. We believe that restoring healthy ecosystems by reviving natural processes is better than imposing designs and building habitat. Stabilized stream channels and enhanced habitat have their places in the modern world, but when it comes to resilience, sustainability, and ecosystem services, there is still no substitute for the real thing. We’ve been promoting the importance of ecological health, complexity, dynamicity, and biological drivers for a decade, and have recently been teaching courses on the stream evolution model, Stage-0 restoration, beaver restoration, and low-tech process-based restoration.
We believe that testing hypotheses with rigorous scientific data and constantly challenging our assumptions in an open collaborative community is the best way to advance knowledge and the practice of stream and wetland restoration. We are eager to share our experiences and learn from others, and we are constantly challenging ourselves and our peers to find the best ways of working with nature to accomplish stream restoration and management goals.
Our decades of experience studying Colorado headwaters streams has led us to the inescapable realization that riparian connectivity and beavers are profoundly important drivers of stream health and function. This is now our focus. We now work mostly with land trusts, watershed groups, and other conservation partnerships to promote process-based restoration, beaver expansion, and enlightened land stewardship to Colorado headwaters. We formed Riparian Reconnect in 2016 with our longtime friends and restoration partners at Colorado Open Lands, Dr. Brad Johnson and Scott Gillilan to upscale this work and study its effectiveness in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
EcoMetrics is a preferred contractor for Colorado in implementing low-tech PBR projects. Visit the site to learn more, see examples, download the design manual (free!), and sign up for workshops. We’re here to help you get started.
EcoMetrics is a professional installer, having completed the training in beaver conflict management and flow device construction with mentorship under Mike Callahan through the Beaver Institute. We can help you solve beaver problems
EcoMetrics calls on a network of trusted partners to fulfill our restoration and conservation mission
(Beardsley and Doran 2020 RRNW) We propose an operational definition of stream health. Approaching restoration as a healing process, rather than as a design and build engineering exercise, is more in line with ecological standards (Palmer et al 2005), process-based restoration (Beechie et al 2010) and biomic restoration (Johnson et al 2019).
(Beardsley with Karin Boyd 2019 RRNW) This talk is a fun allegory that explains the fall of the natural equilibrium paradigm and “natural” channel design in favor of a new paradigm that highlights stream health and natural processes over stability (static conditions) and forced equilibrium.
(Beardsley 2018 SCW) Prior to human disturbance, many of Colorado's small alluvial headwaters streams were naturally anastomosed wooded beaver streams or broad grassy wet meadows. Restoring natural Stage 0 streamscapes provides greater hydrological, ecological, and habitat benefits compared to stabilizing and enhancing entrenched Q2 channels as dictated by traditional natural channel design methods.
(Beardsley with Colin Thorne, Janine Castro, and Sue Niezgota 2019 SCW) Stage-0 restoration explained. This talk covers the use of light-touch methods and working with beaver to restore native Stage-0 conditions on small to medium-sized streams.
(Beardsley 2019 SCW) Natural value theory and Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic explain why both natural values and people values are important, how stream health and human benefits can be integrated in decisions, and why stream health matters across the spectrum for both people and nature.
(Beardsley with Joe Wheaton, Jeremy Maestas, Steve Bennet, Scott Shevardian, Jay Wilde 2019 Gunnison) The masters of Low-tech Process-based Restoration taught a workshop in Gunnison and Mark got to help. All the course materials are available using this link.
(Doran and Beardsley 2019 RMSRC) This talk provides evidence of the importance of beavers and other biological drivers of stream form and function and how we can work with biological drivers to restore Rocky Mountain headwaters streamscapes to their natural condition using process-based approaches.
(Sutherland 2019 RMSRC) Relative elevation maps are indispensable for assessing, monitoring, and planning restoration of streamscapes. In the right hands, drones and modern software enable the acquisition of precise and accurate data REM data for a fraction of what it used to cost.
(Doran 2019 SCW) Is the growing interest in complex streams and Stage-0 a fad or is it real? It’s real alright, and it is important. There are lots of reasons why this new paradigm of streamscape form and function is catching on.
(Beardsley 2019 Upper Arkansas Wetland FAC) This talk discusses the importance of beaver streams as part of a watershed’s natural infrastructure and how we use natural process-based methods to restore them.
(Beardsley 2019) Ongoing stream temperature monitoring and comparison to standards in Park County, CO.
(Beardsley 2019 Colorado Stream Mitigation Summit) This presentation goes over recent developments in stream science and restoration practice and challenges those developing federal compensatory stream mitigation protocol for Colorado to integrate them.
(Beardsley 2019 CPW Workshop) This presentation opened a CPW workshop that brought together leaders in the state’s stream science and restoration community to consider potential water issues.
(Beardsley 2019 Buena Vista Community)
A scientist’s look at small streams and wetlands, what makes them healthy, and why they are important.
(Beardsley 2018 RRNW) Today's dominance of entrenched single-thread channels with dry, disconnected riparian zones is at least partially due to widespread anthropogenic conversion from native beaver streams. We found that some Stage 1 streams become arrested in Stage 1 and may continue to lose function through a gradual process of straightening and widening. A restoration approach that reverses the causes of degradation (reestablishing native riparian shrubs, beavers, and a highly-connected anastomosed planform) provides much more benefit and greater sustainability compared to stabilizing and enhancing entrenched channels using traditional natural channel design (NCD) methods.
(Beardsley, Doran, Sutherland 2018) Functional health assessment of a Colorado Front Range stream after the 2013 flood shows how resilient natural streams an be, even in the face of massive disturbance.
(EcoMetrics 2018) A watershed assessment with stream and wetland health evaluations and restoration concepts for Central Colorado Conservancy and the Badger Creek Watershed Partnership.
(EcoMetrics with Lotic Hydrological, Acclivity, and Johnson Environmental Consulting 2018) A stream management plan focused on holistic health of the Yampa River.
(Beardsley 2017) An essay on the meaning of stream health and why it matters. Published as a blog piece on the Colorado Riparian Association website.
(EcoMetrics with Lotic Hydrological and Colorado Mesa University 2017) A framework and rationale for integrating stream health assessment into water management plans for the Upper Colorado Basin.
(Beardsley, Doran, and Sutherland with Brad Johnson 2017 SWS) A three-year effort to quantify the health of every wetland and stream in Park County was used to create a map of current versus potential functional condition for use in planning conservation and restoration. Final report available here.
(Beardsley 2018 CPW and IWJV) How we used a holistic evidence-based approach to functional assessment to inventory all the wetland and streams in the 6 watersheds of Park County, Colorado.
(Doran 2017 RMSRC) 12-year monitoring and project performance appraisal on several natural channel design stream enhancement projects in South Park, CO.
(Beardsley with Brad Johnson 2017) Audubon off the Rockies webinar featuring the Colorado Stream Health Assessment framework.
(EcoMetrics with Otak, Johnson Environmental Consulting, and AlpineEco 2017) A holistic river health assessment of the Poudre River using a framework based on FACStream.
(EcoMetrics with Lotic Hydrological 2016) A stream management plan that integrates holistic ecological health of the Crystal River.
(Beardsley 2016 CPW and IWJV) A presentation on the importance of beaver-mediated streams in Colorado, why they are so uncommon, and how the fundamentals of restoring them and the wetland they support.
(Beardsley 2015 RMSRC) A history of South Park stream impairment and rationale for natural process-based stage-0 restoration.
(Beardsley with Brad Johnson, Colorado State University 2016 SWS) A presentation explaining FACStream (Functional Assessment of Colorado Streams) framework and draft mitigation crediting protocol developed with the EPA for use in compensatory mitigation.
(EcoMetrics 2015) A feasibility assessment for restoring beavers to an isolated drainage in South Park where they have been absent for a century, and a proposal to study the effectiveness.
(Beardsley and Doran with Brad Johnson 2015 RRNW) Presentation on a new forensic and holistic approach to evaluating stream health and function developed for Colorado’s compensatory mitigation program.
(EcoMetrics with Brad Johnson, Colorado State University 2015) Manual for a holistic stream health assessment framework developed with the EPA, USAE, and state agencies for use in compensatory mitigation.
(Beardsley with Brad Johnson, Colorado State University 2015) This report explains an innovative mitigation crediting strategy proposed for Colorado. We clarify the foundational objective of federal compensatory mitigation and review standard operating procedures in use across the country as context for explaining alternative approaches may avoid foreseeable pitfalls.
(Beardsley 2014 SWS) A presentation on the importance of beavers for maintaining floodplain connectivity and wetland.
(Beardsley and Doran 2014 RRNW) A presentation describing anastomosing beaver-mediated streams that are natural to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain meadows, why they are an important omission from existing stream classification systems, and how that error is remedied by the new Steam Evolution Model.
Doran and Beardsley 2014 RRNW) 10 years of monitoring habitat enhancement goals on natural channel design-build projects in South Park revealed little improvement. We conclude that ecological process-based restoration may be a better approach for to “getting habitat the natural way.”
(Beardsley and Doran 2013 SCW) Highly connected anastomosing beaver-mediated streams that are natural to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain meadows, and beavers are critical to restoring watershed function.