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Boreal Community Media

How beavers impact the northern boreal forest we in Cook County know and love

Jun 05, 2023 08:37AM ● By Content Editor
Photos provided

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media - June 2, 2023

Human interactions with beavers haven’t always been positive: over-trapping for fur pelts that led to declining populations, and negative experiences due to the landscape changes (that they’re so well known for) are just two examples. 

But like many things in life, perhaps we don’t understand them as we should. 

Talon Stammen, Ph.D. Student and Graduate Teaching Assistant in the University of North Dakota's Department of Biology hopes to change that. 

Stammen will be presenting at North House Folk School on June 2nd as part of the organization’s 2023 Northern Landscape Festival. 

His topic? Beavers. And specifically, how this keystone species impacts not only local landscapes (like downtown Grand Marais),  but also on amphibians and invertebrates. 

Talon is a self-described naturalist, poet, craftsman (he built his own log cabin on Lake of the Woods and enjoys practicing other traditional northern MN crafts), and is on a mission to “Make a significant contribution to our understanding of boreal ecology.” 

One of the ways he is working toward this goal is through his dissertation research which is “A field-based observational study of amphibian and aquatic macroinvertebrate communities in beaver-affected wetlands in Voyageurs National Park,” he said. 


Stammen shared that he decided on this topic because of the vast impacts beavers can have in an area, and the fact that amphibians and invertebrates are fairly sensitive to environmental change (and they’re limited in where they can go). If you combine these two things, how do they impact each other? How do they play a role in our northern boreal landscapes?

And speaking of beavers impacting an area, downtown Grand Marais is just one small place that has been greatly affected by the species. 

“This species is central to the story of the North Shore of Lake Superior because its dam-building activities along inland streams have served to hold the water and soils needed to sustain forest ecosystems on the landscape,” he said. 

But the impacts don’t stop there. 

During the fur trade, there was a high demand for beaver pelts causing fur traders to expand their geography west into Minnesota (and specifically Grand Portage). 

In present days, beavers will occasionally move along the shoreline of Lake Superior looking for trees - including felling some trees in Grand Marais harbor. 

Beavers can alter landscapes in such big ways that they are known as a ‘keystone species’ - which is a species that is part of an ecosystem that has a larger effect on an area compared to other species of that same ecosystem. 

Talon says that as most of us know, beavers build a lodge and/or dams, which can cause water to pool and rise. This rise in water level kills surrounding vegetation allowing wetland plants to grow. 

“Over time, ponds begin to fill in with sediment and accumulated vegetation. This begins the process of succession, the slow reclamation of the ground by forest as terrestrial plants reclaim the edges of the filling pond.”

This change in water levels and vegetation leads to a change in the animal species that frequent the area, causing beavers to stay and continue to alter the landscape or move on to another area. 

The change in animal species, specifically amphibians and invertebrates, is what Stammen is researching and will be talking about during the Northern Landscapes Festival. 


“It has been interesting to get to know the different species of frogs and toads that breed along the edges of these ponds and to be able to distinguish their unique calls at night. I have also enjoyed learning about the amazing diversity of invertebrate families that use wetlands for at least part of their life history. Among the most interesting of these to me are the caddisflies, which craft protective tubelike cases from materials such as pebbles or neatly cut leaves,” he said.

“Nature is truly wonderful, and seeking to understand how it works can be one of the most meaningful parts of the human experience. Everyone has the capacity to learn about and more deeply appreciate the natural environment that surrounds us,” he added. 

You can learn more about Talon’s presentation and the rest of the Northern Landscapes Festival events here: 

Here are two books Talon recommends for anyone who would like to learn more:

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here