Idaho farmer forges a sustainable future for his land with Beaver Dam Analogs (BDAs)

When beavers and their dams disappeared in the 90s, the land around Jason Fellows’ Idaho farm started losing water because the stream was moving too fast down the hill. Jason remembered where those dams were and has built Beaver Dam Analogs (BDAs) to bring sustainability to the soil, and the water, and to attract beavers back into the area.

For Jason Fellows, of Idaho, sustainability is not just a buzzword. It is a way of life for the farmer with a deep-rooted connection to the land that shapes the legacy he envisions for generations to come.

“Sustainability is the key thing that helps people through the future,” Jason said. “If we weren’t focused on sustainability, we wouldn’t have things that are there for our kids or their kids.”

Jason and his brother have been stewards of their piece of Idaho for years, and their commitment to sustainability led them to embark on a unique project, Beaver Dam Analogs (BDAs).

“A BDA is a Beaver Dam Analog,” Jason explained. “It’s a man-made beaver dam designed to mimic the function of a natural beaver dam. The purpose of a BDA is to slow down water in a creek, allowing the water to seep into the soil and improve the land’s hydrology.”

Four years ago, the Fellows noticed a decline in stream flow on their property. It was a concerning trend that led them to reminisce about days past when beavers inhabited the creek, and their presence had a positive impact on water retention.

The brothers decided to install BDAs in their creek to address the issue, aiming to replicate the beaver’s natural water management.

“Our goal in doing the Beaver Dam Analog projects was to make our place more sustainable,” Jason said.

This innovative approach to water management proved to be prophetic during a year with a high snowpack and intense runoff. The BDAs, filled with sediment, showcased their effectiveness in preventing soil erosion and maintaining creek stability. In contrast, other creeks in the area without BDAs experienced significant erosion and deepened channels.

BDAs conserve water as well as foster biodiversity. Riparian areas along riverbanks where water dissipates are critical for wildlife. Beaver presence in these areas—or the implementation of BDAs—significantly reduces the risk of wildfires, as they remain moist and act as natural firebreaks.

However, while implementing this man-made fix was vital, Fellows also recognized the larger goal of the project as a way to attract beavers back to the area.

“The big thing about a BDA is you want to attract a beaver back in,” he said. “But if you don’t have a pool of water where a beaver feels safe, the beaver won’t come.”

For Fellows and his fellow farmers and ranchers, sustainability is not an abstract concept. It is a daily practice rooted in the land and its future.

“As farmers and ranchers, we focus on providing for future generations and taking care of the land,” Fellows said.

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