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Often Pesky Beavers Put to Work Restoring Streams

In a heavily irrigated Washington valley where fish, crops and people often compete for water, biologists are turning to one of nature's best engineers to help restore streams and salmon habitat. Landowners typically trap or kill beavers that block irrigation canals and flood homes in the Yakima Valley. But one project is relocating the troublemaking creatures to the headwaters of the Yakima River, where their talent for chewing willows and constructing lodges can be put to good use. "Beavers can be really destructive, but in the right places, they can be good ecosystem engineers," said Mel Babik, project manager with the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, a nonprofit that works to restore salmon populations. In Washington, Oregon, Utah and other parts of the West, beavers increasingly are being used as an effective, low-cost tool to help restore rivers. Beaver dams, ponds and other structures add complexity to an ecosystem, slowing the flow of water and sediment downstream. Salmon and other fish take advantage of pockets of slow water to rest, feed and hide.

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--- The Associated Press