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USFS: Temple Fork Watershed Fish & Beaver Ecology

Project Type:  Unfunded Research / Collaboration
Project Sponsor:  USFS
Project Location: Temple Fork Watershed
Status:   Ongoing

Project Overview

Purpose of Project:

The purpose of this project is to determine whether beaver dams act as movement barriers to Bonneville cutthroat trout, brown trout , and brook trout in the Temple Fork watershed of the Logan River.


Dams created by North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) have numerous effects on the stream habitat use of trout. The extent to which beaver dams act as movement barriers to salmonids and whether successful dam passage differs among species is a topic in need of further research. We investigate the passage of beaver dams by three species of trout in two northern Utah tributaries. We fitted 1381 trout with passive integrated transponder tags located above and below 22 known beaver dams to establish whether fish passed dams and to identify downstream and upstream passes; 187 trout were observed passing a beaver dam. Native Bonneville cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki utah) passed dams more frequently than both non-native brown trout (Salmo trutta) and brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). It was determined that spawning timing affected seasonal changes in dam passage for each species. Physical characteristics and location of individual beaver dams affected the passage of each species. Movement behaviors of each trout species were also evaluated to help explain dam passage. This data suggests that beaver dams are not acting as barriers to movement for cutthroat and brook trout which have both co-evolved with North American beaver but may be impeding the movements of invasive brown trout.

Significance of Project:

  • This research is one of the first studies that quantitatively documents the passage of three species of trout passing beaver dams
  • It is important to watershed and fisheries managers in areas where beaver are present

Temple Fork Watershed Beaver Dams

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We used passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags in fish to track their locations. We identifed fish located above and below beaver dams to identify passage and direction of passage.  We also evaluated passage by fish species, size class, and passage timing.    


We identified 484 individual beaver dam passes.  Cutthroat trout were more likely to pass dams than brown or brook trout.  Timing of passage differed by species but generally occured near their respective spawning seasons.  Size classes of passing fish also varied.  Brown trout in the 201-250mm size class passed dams more than expected.  Cutthroat trout in the largest size class (>350) passed dams more than expected.  Characteristics of dams that affected passage were dam height and a dam's location in the upstream direction. 
The above figure shows passage counts of each dam (S=Spawn Creek, T=Temple Fork).

Conclusions / Future Work

  • All three species of trout were observed passing beaver dams.
  • Bonneville cutthroat trout, which have coevolved with North American beaver, were more adept than brown trout at passing beaver dams in both directions 
  • While brook trout also coevolved with North American beaver, they passed dams less frequently due to much smaller overall movement behaviors and only being located in the upper reaches of Spawn Creek
  • Future work is needed to identify the actual mechanisms behind dam passage.  How do fish pass dams?  Do they jump the dam, swim through the dam, or go around a dam using side channels, or a combination of the three?  In-stream antenna arrays place above, below, and in side channels would help to answer this question.

Related Links & Research

Project Outputs

Presentations from this Project

Publications from this Project

Datasets Associated With this Project

  • NCALM LiDaR of Temple Fork Watershed: LiDAR data acquisition and processing completed by the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM - http://www.ncalm.org). NCALM funding provided by NSF's Division of Earth Sciences, Instrumentation and Facilities Program. EAR-1043051.DOI: 10.5069/G9HQ3WTG