Two cinnamon-colored black bear cubs hustle across a beaver dam trying to keep up with their mom. In the background is the sound of pondwater tumbling through the dam’s woven maze of sticks, logs, mud and rocks.
This Wyoming moment in nature, along with many others, was captured and shared by Beaver Dam Cams, a project of Wyoming Untrapped, a Jackson nonprofit organization. Many of these encounters are posted to the group’s YouTube channel.
Many of the animals that roam Wyoming forests don’t like to get their feet wet. Known as nature’s engineers, beavers build the bridges that support wildlife transportation.
Their ponds also serve the wildlife community, both transient and local, by providing habitat.
A pair of Canada geese play the role of bridge trolls in one video. Their nest is dead center on top of the dam, and they don’t take kindly to a marmot that wants to cross. The marmot is able to sneak by on the edges of the dam twice, but on his third attempt he gets bitten and chased off.
A group of five otters is caught on camera crossing the dam several times. The audio picks up their unique vocalizations.
The sound of breaking sticks is audible as a large bull moose crosses the dam. His hooves sink down several inches into the loose debris on top of the dam while a smaller bull is seen in the background.
Smile, You’re On Beaver Dam Cam
The Beaver Dam Cams have caught a mountain lion, coyotes, bobcats, a great-horned owl, mule deer, moose, wolves, foxes and a bull elk wading in the dark.
In addition, there’s underwater footage of a beaver collecting stones from the pond bottom. Some of them it lifts and carries, others it scoots across the creek bottom. At one point the beaver gives the camera a close examination. His tail bumps the lens as he turns and swims away.
The wildlife footage captured at two Wyoming beaver ponds is a hit on YouTube. Analytics shared by Jenny DeSarro, executive director of Wyoming Untrapped, shows the video of a moose crossing a dam with more than 10,000 views.
DeSarro said the cameras were in operation for about two years, but have been taken down recently. Placing the cameras correctly and gathering the audio data was challenging, and Wyoming Untrapped had to get permits to place cameras on public land.
“People love them,” DeSarro said. “There’s an extra element with the bird sounds and other audio that’s rare and difficult to capture.”
She added that several volunteers contributed to the Beaver Dam Cam effort.
“It’s an opportunity for us to show how beavers can improve the diversity of the landscape,” she said. “Beavers were nearly exterminated for commercial reasons and now a century later we have realized the ecological ramifications of not having them on the landscape with the loss of wetlands and riparian water tables.”
Cody Pitz, wildlife biologist and beaver restoration program coordinator for the Wyoming Wetlands Society, told Cowboy State Daily beavers provide complexity in the ecosystem that benefits the forest community.
“Their dams trap so much water that would otherwise run past and they can turn a small creek into a large pond or lake,” he said.
The trapped water helps trout and other fish grow larger and creates resting and feeding habitat for waterfowl. Ponds also provide habitat for aquatic plants that wouldn’t otherwise be able to exist in forest ecosystems, he said.
Those plants provide food for some animals like moose and ducks and cover to hide others including small fish.