RMRS Air, Water, & Aquatic Environments Science Program RMRS Air, Water, & Aquatic Environments Science Program

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About the Rocky Mountain Research Station

AWAE Program Headquarters
322 East Front St., Ste 401

Boise, ID 83702

(208) 373-4340


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2150 Centre Ave., Bldg A
Fort Collins, CO 80526

(970) 295-5923

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Beaver Creek Experimental Watershed (BCEW)


Clouds embrace theBeaver Creek Experimental Watershed. Photo by Boris Poff



The Beaver Creek Experimental Watersheds (BCEW) study utilizes the existing watersheds south of Flagstaff, Arizona. Five watersheds (76 to 722 ha in size) have been re-instrumented with stream gauge recording instruments and weather stations in the spring of 2006. The streamflow gauging weirs on these watersheds are still mostly intact since the original study was terminated in 1981. There is over 20 years of hydrologic, climatic, vegetation, fuels, soils, and wildlife data from the 1950s through the 1980s and beyond which provide background for the study.

The re-instated watersheds are WS 9, 11, 12, 13, and 14. Each watershed has a gauging weir, and 200 permanent vegetation plots. Vegetation, fuels, and wildlife data were originally collected in the mid 1960s, and re-measured again in the mid-1970s. Some of the watersheds were re-measured in the early 1990s. The treatments to be carried out by the Coconino National Forest include two watersheds (WS 9 & 14), thinned (22 and 55%, respectively) and 100% burned, two watersheds (WS 11 &12) 100% burned. Watershed 13 is the control watershed. This study will provide information on fuels treatment effects at a watershed-scale for the first time. This type of information has been identified as being critical for continued fuels treatment in Arizona and the Southwest. Previous watershed research carried out in the region neglected to address the effects of combining thinning and burning to reduce wildfire hazard.

Study Site

BCEW is upstream from the junction of Beaver Creek and the Verde River in north-central Arizona. This watershed is part of the Salt-Verde River Basins, which are major river drainages in central Arizona and provide much of the municipal and agricultural water for Phoenix and other communities in the heavily populated Salt River Valley. The Beaver Creek watershed lies along the Mogollon Rim and is within the largest continuous stands of ponderosa pine in the United States and extends as a belt of trees for nearly 200 miles across Arizona. In ascending order of elevation, the three vegetation types found on the Beaver Creek watershed are: semi-desert shrubs, pinyon-juniper, and ponderosa pine. The Beaver Creek Experimental Watershed was established in 1956 to study the influence of various vegetative manipulations of pinyon-juniper and ponderosa pine on water yield and to evaluate changes in livestock forage, timber production, wildlife habitats, recreational values, and soil movement.

Two watersheds with similar characteristics, both physical and biological, were selected and measurements of streamflow, sediment production, water quality, vegetation, and animal use were made on each watershed before any treatment was applied. After a period of time, one watershed was selected for application of a management treatment and measurements continued on both the treated and control watersheds. Changes caused by management practices applied to the treated watersheds were evaluated by comparing post treatment values with pretreatment data, and with data from the control watersheds. Most water-oriented studies on Beaver Creek were terminated by 1982, and final results of the initial treatment studies were reported on during the latter part of the 1980s. Several stream gages and weather stations have been maintained to the present by Northern Arizona University.

The BCEW is characteristic of much of the Coconino National Forest along the Mogollon Rim. The watershed includes plateaus, sloping mesas and breaks, and steep canyons.

  • Bedrock underlying the area consists of igneous rocks of volcanic origin, below these are sedimentary rocks of Kaibab, Coconino, and Supai formations.
  • Elevations range from 900 to 2,400 m (3,000 to 8,000 ft) above sea level.
  • Vegetation ranges from semi-desert shrub at the lower elevations, to pinyon-juniper woodland from 1,500 to 1,800 m (5,000 to 6,000 ft), and then ponderosa pine above 2,000 m (6,500 ft).
  • Precipitation and streamflow vary greatly from year to year. Seasonally, flow is concentrated in a few months of each year when the snow melts.
  • The BCEW is a biosphere reserve, a component of a worldwide network in Unesco's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program.


Mushrooms can reach remarkable sizes in this semi-arid watershed. Photo by Duncan Leao


Figure 1. Beaver Creek Experimental Watersheds, Coconino National Forest, Arizona


Map of Beaver Creek watershed area showing tour path



The BCEW is located in north-central Arizona and the center of the watershed is about 80 km (50 mi) south of Flagstaff, Arizona, in Coconino and Yavapai Counties. Established in 1956 by the USDA Forest Service as a major center for watershed management research within the pinyon-juniper and ponderosa pine vegetation types, the site encompasses 111,375 ha (275,000 ac) on the lush Coconino National Forest.


The Beaver Creek Experimental Watershed (BCEW) is described in further detail on the following pages:


Beaver Creek Watershed

BCEW Research on Fuel Treatment Effects

BCEW Research on forest management, streamflow, and forage production





Rocky Mountain Research Station - Air, Water and Aquatic Environments Sciences Program
Last Modified:  Thursday, 08 April 2021 at 18:13:41 CDT

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