Dr. Emily Fairfax
Beavers have the ability to significantly reshape riparian wetlands and impact the hydrological cycle. Their presence in riparian zones brings many benefits to the ecosystem, as they provide a suitable environment for vegetation to grow. Beaver dams slow and store water, maintaining riparian vegetation health, even though dry seasons and droughts. Our research will examine the presence of beaver dams, before and after the 2020 Colorado fires. Wildfires are known to spread quickly from area to area and can become severe if they have excessive fuel to burn. Beavers may be able to reduce the spread of fires by storing water in the landscape, retaining moisture and keeping vegetation green, making it harder to burn. The main idea being, simply, that wet things don’t burn. Previous studies have found this hypothesis to hold true, however, due to the severity of the 2020 Colorado fires our results may differ. Using Google Earth Pro, we will map out beaver dams within the Colorado fire perimeters; then we will measure the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to see how green vegetation is in riparian areas with and without beaver dams, before and after the fires. We anticipate that beaver damming will reduce the burn severity during wildfires. Understanding the role that beaver dammed riparian areas play in the spread of fires may help the State Forest Service find new methods to respond to wildfires.