To Beaver or Not To Beaver?

   Posted by heidi08 On May - 25 - 2017ADD COMMENTS

More silly mulling from the Scottish countyside: Should beavers be allowed or not? A reader on the Tayside group pointed out that this same argument could have been made 15 years ago, I say probably longer than that.

Beaver reintroduction – what’s the story?

Their reputation as strong swimmers and prodigious engineers is not an understatement. Their large incisors and clawed front feet enable them to construct dams and lodges that can extend for hundreds of metres, as well as burrows of up to 20 metres into the riverbank.

“Any species introduction, particularly if it has not been in this country for hundreds of years, can have a massive impact on the many benefits that the countryside delivers,” Mark Pope, an arable farmer from Somerset who has instigated numerous initiatives to provide habitat and food for birds and insects and encourage diverse plant species on his farm, said.

“In the case of beavers, the NFU has concerns about the damage to farmland and the landscape caused by their physical activities.” Mark, who is also chair of the NFU Environment Forum, added. “Farmers and the public must have the tools to manage the impacts beavers will have to farmland, the countryside, flood defences and urban areas.

“Beavers can add biodiversity, as well as the interest, enjoyment and socio-economic benefits they can provide to many people. What the NFU is very clear on is that in some locations there is a clear need to manage this species to minimise undesirable impacts on agriculture, forestry, inland waters and other land uses.”

There is increasing interest in the beneficial role beavers could bring to habitats. The natural activities of beavers could help to regulate flooding and improve water quality, if managed properly. The Devon trial on the River Otter, led by the Devon Wildlife Trust in partnership with Clinton Devon Estates, the University of Exeter and the Derek Gow Partnership, has been exploring the role of beavers in managing and creating wetland habitats, the impacts on water quality, and influence on water flow and flood risk.

Tolkein once wrote “Go not to the elves for council, for they will say both ‘No’ and ‘Yes’.” Mostly no, though.

On the other hand, beaver burrows near watercourses can weaken river embankments and flood defences. Material felled and gathered by beavers for dams and lodges can create flood risk downstream and block drains upstream. The potential consequences of this for farmland and the rural economy is a cause for concern.

It is estimated that the costs of the 2007 and 2013-14 floods on agricultural businesses alone were £50m and £19m respectively, not to mention the wider economic impacts on local employment, infrastructure and utilities and the damage caused to people’s homes and communities.

The knock-on effects can be wide-ranging. The loss of productive farmland, for instance, would have a detrimental effect on food production and supply.

The Scottish Beaver Trial was a five-year project between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Forestry Commission Scotland to undertake a trial reintroduction of beavers to Knapdale, Mid-Argyll. The trial concluded in 2014 and as a result the Scottish government is considering recognising the European beaver as a native species.

A change in the legal status of beavers raises additional concerns. This is because beavers have no natural predators in the UK so it is important that populations can be managed, particularly if they are present in extensive low-lying areas such as East Anglia, Wiltshire and the Somerset Levels where their activities could block field drains leading to waterlogging (known as ‘wetting up’) of productive farmland.

Clarification: Beavers might benefit us if they don’t kills us all first.  “We killed off all their natural predators in the UK so there’s nothing left  to kill them and their numbers will swell like taxes with national health”. Are there no otters? No bacteria? No vehicles in your land? Beavers just don’t get killed by predators you know. And honestly, why act like you want to explore an issue and ONLY speak to one farming fiend from the National Farmers Union?

Who’s going to list all the many benefits for fish, wildlife, birds and water storage that come with beavers? Who’s going to talk about how much you can learn about nature by watching them? Who’s going to say how much they improve the health and vitality of urban waterways?

We need a National Beavers Union!!!

nbu

 

Gifts of May

   Posted by heidi08 On May - 24 - 2017ADD COMMENTS
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Old bedding: Rusty Cohn

Once upon a time I was surprised to read that beaver change the rushes on their lodge floor every week or so. Mostly because that’s more than people did in the middle ages. But Rusty was lucky enough to come across the activity last evening at the beaver pond in Napa. I seem to remember that this is the time of year I saw it most often, obviously having babies muck up the place must make it dirty faster. When Rusty got to the pond last night he saw this:

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Carrying in new bedding: Rusty Cohn

 

After watching for a while he saw a beaver gathering up some of the cattails and then swimming with them into the lodge. The original changing of the guard.

Apparently in the winter months, when there are no fresh grasses or cattails they rely on
woodchips. I’m trying to imagine

why, because it can’t be comfortable. Maybe it’s like elephants covering themselves with dust and it help keeps insects away?

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Rusty Cohn

I’m not sure, but I know that  May is an EXCELLENT time for beaver watching in the bay area. Rusty has been watching the pond spring to life. And years ago it was when I was lucky enough to see this:

(The records say it was May 3rd, nearly 5 weeks before we had ever seen a kit in the evening, so you can imagine why we were so surprised!)

 

“Are you a good witch? Or a bad witch?”

   Posted by heidi08 On May - 23 - 2017ADD COMMENTS

The “Beaver Patrol” in Juneau understands how beavers are important to salmon. It was started by our friends Bob Armstrong and Mary Willson years ago. But obviously beaver beliefs are still forming and changing up there, because the forest service isn’t so sure about them. The reporter still thinks they live in the dam, and even one of their volunteers needs to look up the word “Destructive” in the dictionary, I think.

Coho habitat destroyed by beaver dam dismantler

Last summer was a great year for coho salmon returns to Dredge Creek. Unfortunately, salmon redds in the creek below Dredge Lake have been negatively impacted by someone it appears was trying to help them, says the Beaver Patrol.

The “Beaver Patrol” is a group of volunteer Juneau naturalists and concerned citizens who have been working in the Dredge Creek and Dredge Lake area — U.S. Forest Service Land — for about five years. They and the Forest Service manage the dams and have improved salmon habitat in the stream, said member Chuck Caldwell.

Another factor helping Dredge Creek’s coho rearing? Beavers.

Caldwell had taken note of three different redds — nests of pebbles where salmon deposit their eggs — just above a beaver dam. A fourth was outside the main channel and needed a nearby dam to maintain its water depth. The destruction of the dam lowered the water and this winter that area froze, he said.

“He was tearing (the dams) out once or twice a week. Clearly he just hated beavers. He also wanted to dig in the stream to make a nice, deep channel. He dug through two of the redds,” Caldwell said.

The digging and the dismantling of the dams destroyed all the salmon redds he had observed in that area, Caldwell said.

In the first half of November, Beaver Patrol member Jos Bakker ran into and confronted the man when he was in the process of destroying a dam. The man doesn’t appear to have come back after that, but the damage was already done, Caldwell said.

The Beaver Patrol emphasizes beavers’ positive impact on salmon rearing.

“If you look back a couple of decades, people used to think that if you got the dams out, the fish could move back easier,” Caldwell said. “That’s not the limiting factor in the coho population. The limiting factor is having a habitat the juvenile cohos can live in.”

“By and large, it’s a safe bet that beaver dams do provide excellent coho rearing habitat,” Schneider said. “They can cause major problems for adult cohos to access fish habitat, and that’s probably what gets most folks in the public tempted to tear out dams. It has to be a fine balance, like anything else … In a normal setting, you would have these major flood events on occasion. It would rearrange them and keep them in check. You’re not going to get that in Dredge. On top of that, there are not normal predator levels that you would find in a normal wild setting.”

Dams’ impact on adult salmon in a setting like Dredge is something about which the Beaver Patrol and the Forest Service are not in complete agreement. Member Mary Willson says 90 percent of the time beavers are actually helpful to coho populations. Schneider disagrees.

When he and the cub scouts notch the dens, they use specific techniques and tools to ensure muddy debris doesn’t end up covering redds.

Beaver management does require a balance, Miller said.

It’s one of those interesting situations,” he said. “It’s true that habitat is being created, but at the same time, beavers are very destructive.”

In areas where beavers might create an aesthetic issue, the patrol has put a cloth around the trees that will keep the beavers from gnawing them, Miller said.

In my old days back before my time as a psychologist we used to call that “they’re good, they’re bad, they’re really good, they’re really bad” kind of messaging ‘schizophrenogenic’.  Meaning if it kind of makes you crazy. Of course now they no longer think schizophrenia is caused by parenting BUT I would argue the term still applies to beavers. Just look at the dedication of folks in a very small area on both sides of the fence. Bob Armstrong even got the forest service to bring out Mike Callahan to talk about flow devices in 2009, but they never let him install one. The breadth of understanding of beaver benefits there is razor thin. But still a lot thicker than some places.

Here’s what Michael Pollock said to me in our podcast interview. “Does some particular beaver dam ever prevent some particular salmon from getting over at some particular time? Sure. But that’s asking the wrong question”.

Beaver dams are doing so much good for so many salmon it balances out.

Here’s my own unscientific variation: “Do people ever get hit by ambulances? Of course they do. Does that mean we shouldn’t have ambulances? Absolutely not.

mendenhall

Beaver Dam at Mendenhall Glacier: Bob Armstrong