Stuff that matters

A California floodplain that looked like a wildfire risk has come back to life thanks to nature’s engineers.

Seven years ago, ecologists looking to restore the Doty Ravine in Lincoln, California, had to choose between spending over $1 million bringing in heavy equipment or trying a more natural approach.

They went for the second option, and turned to nature’s original flood manager to do the work — the beaver.

The creek bed, altered by decades of agricultural use, had looked like a wildfire risk. But it came back to life far faster than anticipated after the beavers went to work.

“It was insane, it was awesome,” said Lynnette Batt, the conservation director of the Placer Land Trust, which owns and maintains the Doty Ravine Preserve.

“It went from dry grassland. .. to totally revegetated, trees popping up, willows, wetland plants of all types, different meandering stream channels across about 60 acres of floodplain.”

Damion Ciotti, a restoration biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who led the project, said he predicted the Doty Ravine project would take a decade to reconnect the stream to the floodplain, but to his surprise, it was restored in just three years.

“One crucial thing that we have to remember is that beavers have been here for a very long time,” said Placer Land Trust land manager Elias Grant. “They understand water flow paths.”