West Virginia Enlists Beavers To Help Ducks

Natural methods used to improve wetlands.

Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area

© West Virginia Division of Natural Resources

Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area's new wetlands.

Despite rugged mountains dominating most of its landscape, West Virginia hosts a small but diverse number of waterfowl during migration and breeding seasons. Keeping the states scarce wetlands intact and healthy is crucial for these ducks.

Ducks Unlimited in 2021 helped the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources fund new restoration projects on a portion of Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area. The 3,000-acre complex is in the northern part of West Virginia, about 80 miles south of Pittsburgh.

“Pleasant Creek is one of three premiere waterfowling areas in the state,” said Mike Peters, wild turkey and migratory game bird biologist for the state’s division of natural resources.  “It’s also become a birding hotspot. We get a little bit of everything coming through here in terms of waterfowl, from canvasbacks and redheads to black ducks and wood ducks.”

The efforts in 2021 resulted in two new wetland cells, designed to improve waterfowling for hunters. Peters said the state began a large-scale effort to improve the wildlife management area in 2001 and this project is an example of them restoring smaller parcels as funding allows. The division of natural resources established low-profile berms and groundwater dams to retain water.

This restoration relies on beavers to help bring back marsh habitat. A handful of artificial beaver dams, called beaver dam analogs, are being tested at the site. The simple dams are meant to be finished and built up by beavers, creating small ponds.

“It’s not as invasive as digging artificial dams and it’s a more natural way to get things done. One thing West Virginia doesn’t lack, is beavers,” Peters said.

If the dams aren’t adopted by the animals, division staff will weave willow branches and mud into the dams to create similar effects.

Jake McPherson, Ducks Unlimited manager of conservation programs for Chesapeake Bay, said West Virginia conservation opportunities are vital for people and waterfowl in the region.

“DU and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources have worked on a few different projects in the past, and this is one of their most highly used public waterfowl areas,” McPherson said. “While their duck densities may not be as high as other geographies, DU is committed to creating a productive migratory path for waterfowl in all states in the Atlantic Flyway.”