A wrinkle in beaver-time

   Posted by heidi08 On March - 3 - 2015ADD COMMENTS

CaptureThis weekend I was working on putting together my presentation for the Salmonid Restoration Conference in Santa Rosa and thought I’d try to find some photos of the big multi-million dollar creek fix done in 1999 that everyone said the beavers threatened. Considering the fact that the work is talked about all the time, and changed our creek-scape fairly dramatically, it’s surprising that there is not a single photo of it on the internet(s). You would think Martinez would be proud of this accomplishment?

While I was looking about I came across a website discussing some OTHER work done in our creek, which is often dramatically added to the price tag of how expensive the beavers were to Martinez. The work was done in 2008 but was posted by the engineering firm in 2012. Maybe they were waiting for the dust to settle or for everyone to forget what actually happened?

I certainly never will.

CaptureProject: Alhambra Creek Beaver Dam

In 2008, litigation was brought against the City of Martinez for damage to private properties caused by beavers living in Alhambra Creek (owned by the City). Cal Engineering & Geology reviewed the site conditions and met with the City’s attorney regarding the merits of the claim.

The litigation put the City in a politically difficult position since the beavers were not a protected species but were greatly supported by the politically active environmental community group called, “Worth a Dam-Martinez Beavers.org”.

rIn the interest of striking a balance between nature, public interest, the City’s liability, and private property, CE&G suggested use of a sheet pile wall to both support the private properties and to act as a barrier against beaver dens extending below private properties.

Based upon conversations with a beaver expert retained by the City and the City Attorney, the sheet pile wall concept was approved.

You can understand at once why this got my full attention. Right off the bat I’m curious why this article is titled the Alhambra Creek beaver dam since even by their own definition this work had nothing to do with the dam. It had to do with the [completely fallacious] argument that they were tunneling out from their lodge like coal miners and undermining the property beside the creek. It’s surprising to see our name (or at least our name as it might appear on the internet) used. But the really interesting statement is the one in red. Exactly what beaver expert did the city confer with to hatch the sheetpile idea?

You understand. there is a sequence problem here. Obviously the city attorney isn’t routinely involved with creek maintenance. I’m sure she’s busy with abutments and ordinance challenge. Neither she nor  any expert were part of the decision which was made in some secret back room, I’m sure. The city attorney got involved when we tried to challenge their willfully misguided decision in court and failed. The beaver  expert was hired as a result of our outcry in attempt to mollify public opinion.

Credit where credit is due – the city council hatched that horrific idea all by themselves (actually I heard from several sources that one of the few members no longer on the council came up with the idea in conjunction with the disgruntled party). This member later had an ex parte conversation with  someone on the subcommittee and that member later called me saying would be no big deal to open the lid of the lodge, gently tap some sheetpile through, and then close it back up. Like a can of beans.

That terrifying  phone call followed a closed door meeting on a Thursday night. The following Friday the action was proposed, we hired an attorney, and paid a geomorphologist to walk and assess the creek on Saturday. The following week Worth A Dam went to court and our request for a temporary restraining order was denied. If the whole thing wasn’t burned into my memory, it would be helpful to look at the blow by blow available on this website. Next wednesday the entire proposal was approved and retained and I was invited to participate on a citizen oversight committee that would have zero capacity for oversight of any kind. I declined and left the meeting in tears.

City Approves All Resolutions

Including the exemption from CEQA. Bids for the work open at 11 tomorrow. Sheet pile will be driven through the beavers lodge. Council responded to comments for citizen inclusion with an offer to set up an oversight committee including Worth A Dam, but then discussed it with the attorney and city engineer who advised that any oversight body could not make decisions, slow decisions or influence them in any way. I declined to participate under those conditions.

 Supporters were in tears at the meeting’s end, including myself. Gary Bogue offers his condolences and wisdom.

Ahh Gary, we miss you. Sniff.

Dear Readers:

In other words, the city invited beaver lovers to sit on an oversight committee … that had no oversight. That kind of says what this is all about, doesn’t it?

 The city now plans to charge ahead on their “emergency bank stabilization,” causing a MAJOR impact on the beavers’ environment and their home … and of course on the beavers themselves.

 I guess we’re going to find out how tough those little guys are, whether we (or they) like it or not.

P1070029That was easily the darkest hour in beavertown, maybe of my life because I felt so personally responsible for failing to avert the decision that I believed would kill them. But Gary was right, we did find out how tough our beavers were. Pretty dam tough is the answer. Every beaver survived and adapted pretty well to the intrusion.

The whole thing introduced an element of freedom to how politely constrained I needed to be in dealing with the city. Up until then, I felt my hands were tied by always feeling obligated to assume they meant well. Now I understand better whose interests they really serve. After the shock and heartbreak wore off, the clarity was truly liberating. With the benefit of hindsight I can look at my remarks and Gary’s remarks and think they probably had something to do with this creative narrative:

Additionally, the beaver expert, who monitored construction at all times and had the authority to stop work, was satisfied with the project.

P1070035I’m so glad that our website was able to put together enough information so that Cal Engineering would know intimately how to lie about in their post. We tried not to leave anything out. I’m rankled that they are offering this whole dangerous charade as an example of their environmental engineering. Although to be fair, I’m not mad at CE, they were just getting paid. I’m mad at the liars and schemers who used the excuse of the beavers as a way to turn a legal award from an old oil spill into a personal flood protection barrier for one property owner.

But that’s all blood under the bridge, now.

Funny thing, it turned out the only thing really being undermined in this whole process was my faith in the city. But no amount of sheetpile will repair that.

In the end, they won the battle. But beavers won the war.cooper crane


   Posted by heidi08 On March - 2 - 2015ADD COMMENTS

The wildlife trust in Kent England is leading the way again, and showing us how it’s done.

There’s another round on Maria Finn’s excellent article on beavers and salmon, this one from The Ecologist.

Beavers are saving California’s wild salmon

With California’s wild Coho salmon populations down to 1% of their former numbers, there’s growing evidence that beavers – long reviled as a pest of the waterways – are essential to restore the species, writes Maria Finn. In the process, they raise water tables, recharge aquifers and improve water quality. What’s not to love?

Beavers are the single most important factor in determining whether Coho salmon persist in California. They work night and day, don’t need to be paid, and are incredible engineers.

Beavers, which were almost hunted to extinction in California during the 1800s, can help restore this watery habitat, especially in drought conditions. Fishery experts once believed the animals’ dams blocked salmon from returning to their streams, so it was common practice to rip them out.

 But, consistent with previous studies, research led by Michael M. Pollock, an ecosystems analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows the opposite: wild salmon are adept at crossing the beavers’ blockages.

 In addition, the dams often reduce the downstream transport of egg-suffocating silt to the gravel where salmon spawn, and create deeper, cooler water for juvenile fish and adult salmon and steelhead. The resulting wetlands also attract more insects for salmon to eat.

 In ongoing research that covered six years, Pollock and his colleagues showed that river restoration projects that featured beaver dams more than doubled their production of salmon.

 Can the animals help bring back the Coho salmon? “Absolutely”, Pollock says. “They may be the only thing that can.”

Ahhh admit it, don’t you sometimes want to MARRY Michael Pollock? He’s the best friend beavers ever had. And I should know. Thanks Michael! And thanks Maria for your excellent article. I hope a few more spots pick it up before long.

Rusty from Napa mentioned the other day that he hoped I said more about the beaver conference. Well he’s in luck, because here’s my interview on the topic from Michael Howie from Fur-bearer Defenders Radio. I wasn’t as brilliant as I had every intention of being, but the conference was a lot of dazzling information and I was/am still percolating and putting things together.



And saving the best for last, guess what we saw with our own dam eyes last night? I’ll give you a hint, they had flat tails and little ears. 3 tails and six ears to be precise. Dad, Mom, and baby all side by side and happy as you please living in the same bank hole and coming out around 7 in the evening. Since we have been down several times during the winter and seen nothing but our dashed hopes, we were understandably elated. I came right home and started watching this, from our friend Willy De Koning the Netherlands.

You need your sound UP for this because it captures our mood perfectly!

Those trampy American Beavers….

   Posted by heidi08 On March - 1 - 2015ADD COMMENTS

Canadians too. Apparently only the european beaver knows how to make a marriage work.

CaptureBeavers pair up for life and never cheat

European beavers are truly monogamous, but the same cannot be said of their North American counterparts

Most animals aren’t the marrying kind. Less than five percent are believed to pair together for life, and even if they do stay together they do plenty of cheating.  But not European beavers. Not only do they pair up for life, a new genetic analysis shows that they are faithful to each other.

 A team led by Pavel Munclinger from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic took samples from several European beaver colonies living in the Kirov region of Russia. They then analysed the genetic relationships among family groups.

 In every colony, all the offspring belonged to both of the parents. None of them had been fathered by males from elsewhere.

The same cannot be said for their American counterparts. North American beavers are known to mate with beavers other than their bonded partners.

 They cheat a lot. In 2008, researchers discovered that the “father” of a pair of young was unrelated to at least one of them about half of the time.

I knew all this monogamy business was a smokescreen! How many times have I been watching our beavers and seen mom bat her come-hither eyes at the nearest woody offering! (There’s a reason the word beaver has another meaning ya know…) We read this particular research they’re referring too back in 2008 in preparation for our historic prevalence paper. The authors referred to it as “opportunistic monogomy” and Rickipedia quipped that the term describes most males of the human species too. Ha.

Cheating does have its advantages. If a mother mates with a healthier male than her main partner, she can pass better genes onto her young.

 But there are also advantages to staying loyal. “Genetic monogamy lowers the risk of parasite transmission,” says Munclinger.

 ”It also lowers the risk of partner desertion, which is very important in species with extensive parental care of both sexes.”

 Staying faithful seems to serve the European beavers well. Their populations have been climbing in areas of the UK where they have been reintroduced.

It’s good that this news is being lauded in the British Press. They need another reason to like beavers and being told ‘theirs are better’ is a great way to convince the holdouts. In  a more sober consideration you have to wonder whether population density matters. And whether  having very little competition affects how faithful beavers chose to be. Most of Europe is as crammed with beaver as it is with people now and those beavers don’t cheat apparently. Our population is decimated and our beavers mate with anything they can get. Maybe the facts are related. Didn’t a pair from the (no beavers for 500 years) Scottish beaver trial hook up with other beavers?

We  American beaver-lovers will just continue being content with their slutty ways until the population gets fuller, I guess.

And in case you need more praises sung for beavers, here’s a fun reminder from Fairbanks Alaska

Rodents are remarkable creatures, not pests

If you only think of rodents as pests, you are missing out. One reason these animals are misunderstood is because there are so many of them. More, in fact, than any other kind of mammal, but they play an important role in the ecosystem.“

 Some of these rodents are referred to by ecologists as indicator species,” Nations says, “because they indicate the health of an ecosystem.”

 Another example is the role that beavers play in creating wetlands that are used by many bird species. Beaver ponds also can be convenient places to spot moose and muskrats are known to take up residence in beaver lodges, as well.

Theresa Baker ends the nice article by suggesting kids build a ‘rodent collection’ in their home, you know a clay porcupine with toothpick spines etc. Good idea, and I would definitely include one of these:


Inspired by the fact that a beaver kit is shaped exactly like a peanut. Peppercorn nose, lentil ears, black mustard seed eyes and pumpkin seed tail set in macaroni noodle, Worth A Dam original



Some good beaver news that might pass unnoticed…

   Posted by heidi08 On February - 28 - 2015ADD COMMENTS

The first is a new article from Rochestor Minnesota where the outdoor reporter has surprisingly nice things to say about beaver.

 Chris Kolbert: Beavers create havens for trout — and anglers


  Beaver ponds are one of my favorite places to fish trout, and studies have shown that they can enhance trout and salmon populations. The large rodents are engineering geniuses, building dams to deepen the water, creating habitat that allows them to survive harsh winters.

 Just upstream, a beaver lodge, made of logs and branches, was built into the stream bank to create an impenetrable fortress in which the animals could live. As is typical for beavers, a food bed of freshly cut saplings was buried in the pond, with only the tips of the branches rising above the ice.

 I moved out of the willows and cast into a shallow riffle below the beaver dam. As the line passed a large boulder, another fish picked up the bait. This time, it was a spunky 12-inch brook trout that gobbled up the nightcrawler.

 The mid-day sun beamed down on the water as I turned back. For a short time at least, I’d cured my case of cabin fever — and I had a few beavers to thank for that.

The photo is a dam on a trout stream in northeast Iowa creates a deep pool that’s perfect for trout. Beaver dams can cause problems for landowners, but they can be an angler’s best friend.

(Except in Scotland and Wisconsin where they are terrified of them.)

Thanks Chris for reminding us of yet ANOTHER reason to appreciate beavers. We always need more. Although I won’t post this article anywhere near our beaver dam, because the last thing we need is a beaver snagged by some fishing tackle or tangled in line!

More good news from Ohio because Sharon Brown sent me the article on Mason we missed when I was away conferencing.

Controversy Builds Around Beaver Dams

ONow there’s a story you don’t read every day from Ohio. They are still hard at work deciding if they can stand learning such new things and co-existing with beavers, but I’m thinking with BWW on their side and some very concerned residents they have a dam good shot at success! Go here to read the full article with has only 1 or 2 things I’m scratching my head over.

For example it says there are “30 beaver families” in this park. Where on earth does that stat come from? Do they mean 30 dams? Hopefully Owen and Sharon will explain that one dam doesn’t equal one family. Our family maintained as many as four at one time. People have all kinds of complicated statistical methods to infer beaver population, but honestly. The only way you’re going to know for sure is just by watching.

And remember, it was Scott Stolensberg of Ohio’s perfect Glass Farm Beaver photo that gave me permission to use his photo and do this.

Keystone Beaver Arch

Photo by Scott Stolensberg, artwork by Worth A Dam

Now I’m off to record a post-conference interview with Furbearer Defender Radio, to talk about what was learned at the State of the Beaver. Hopefully it will be up and share-able sometime soon. Wish me luck!


Message Delivery

   Posted by heidi08 On February - 27 - 2015ADD COMMENTS

Indiana University researcher reports that isolated wetlands matter a great deal – just not the things that make and maintain them.

Isolated wetlands have significant impact on water quality

Geographically isolated wetlands play an outsized role in providing clean water and other environmental benefits even though they may lack the regulatory protections of other wetlands, according to an article by Indiana University researchers and colleagues.

 Given those benefits, the authors argue, decision-makers should assume that isolated wetlands are critical for protecting aquatic systems, and the burden of proof should be on those who argue on a case-by-case basis that individual wetlands need not be protected.

 ”Geographically isolated wetlands provide important benefits such as sediment and carbon retention, nutrient transformation and water-quality improvement, all of which are critical for maintaining water quality,” said lead author John M. Marton, assistant scientist at the IU Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “We demonstrate that continued loss of these wetlands would likely cause serious harm to North American waters.”

 Yes it’s true, wetlands are really important, especially when they’re in unconnected areas that aren’t attached to other wetlands.  Our top notch researchers think they’re so important that people should be prevented from ripping out those wetlands. And the government should play a roll in making them.

We don’t have the foggiest idea of how those wetlands get there, but we know they’re important.

Yes, webs are important but spiders don’t matter at all, nests are invaluable but we aren’t sure what makes them. and eggs are vital but who cares about chickens?


Oh alright, maybe you’re getting the football very close to the end zone and it’s up to some other researcher or environmental attorney to get it over the line. Certainly this lays a certain foundation. And I would know JUST where to look for argument if I were trying to save beaver in Indiana.

Citing research literature, the authors say geographically isolated wetlands are highly effective “biogeochemical reactors” that improve water quality. They often retain water longer than protected waters, such as streams and wetlands that are directly connected to navigable water. And they have a higher ratio of perimeter to area, allowing more opportunities for reactions to take place.


This morning a quick update from beaver friend Lisa Owens Viani, the founder of RATS, who guest posted this article on 10,000 birds. Apparently the raptor-killing fiends of the world have come up with the excellent idea to name their new rat poison “HAWK”, because you know, hawks kill rats too, get it?

22Hawk.22-2-400x280It takes a lot of nerve—or something that can’t be printed here—to name your rat poison after the animals that so effectively and efficiently control rodents but that are also being poisoned—as “non target” animals—by your product. The label on Motomco/Bell Lab’s rodenticide “Hawk” even sports a drawing of a hawk getting ready to pounce. But “Hawk”’s active ingredient, a deadly second-generation anticoagulant, bromadialone, has been implicated in the deaths of Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, and other raptors: American Kestrels, Barn Owls, Golden Eagles, Great Horned Owls, and Turkey Vultures. These birds are being poisoned after eating rodents that have been poisoned by products like “Hawk.”

You can read the entire article here. I told Lisa not to worry because this was such a tone deaf marketing decision they could easily turn it to their advantage. Instead of writing outraged letters or presenting them with a cease and desist letter. send the most flowery thank you card you can find, and say how much you appreciate their help in  linking rat poison to hawks, reminding every single buyer who the real victims of their products are. That kind of branding is invaluable. It’s hard work doing it yourself and billboards are very expensive.

Ask when their similar products of OWL or BOBCAT will go on the market, and say you appreciate their help in this matter. If you thank them sincerely enough, I said, that label will disappear.


Magical beaver day

   Posted by heidi08 On February - 26 - 2015Comments Off

Yesterday we had arranged a meeting between two Watershed Stewards Program Americorp interns and the city engineer of Martinez to talk about planting willow in the beaver habitat. It all became possible after my presentation at the San Francisco water board in December. Rebecca and Corie took Amtrak out from Oakland and we gave them a tour of the planting areas and beaver dam before taking them to the meeting. On the way we came across the most darling little beaver chews from our 2014 kit that we presented as souvenirs (along with hats, which were much appreciated, as you can see).

Desktop3Then we sat down to what we expected to be a challenging meeting. Historically it has not been simple to negotiate with the city to put trees in the beaver habitat. (Take from that what you will-it’s almost like they don’t want the beavers to stay!) But we were hopeful that having some professionals in uniform might make it easier. We talked a little about the areas we wanted to plant, and then discussed the ideas I had encountered regarding fascines at the beaver conference, which prompted our interns to talk about their recent projects at Baxter and Strawberry Creek where they had used fascines of both willow and dogwood.

We talked about timing and their experience, and then the city engineer said he would handle things with the council and with Fish and Game and we could get the project moving within two weeks.(!) They would do the planting and get the willow cuttings, and encourage some colleagues to help out on the day. We promised to reward everyone with hats if they did!  And then the meeting was over. Approximately 15 glorious minutes after it started.

No, really.

Jon and I were in varied states of amazement. To say that was not the reception we’d been expecting is a significant understatement. But I swear it really happened. And we are on board to get willow in the ground before the middle of March. Riley will help arrange for them to harvest it from wildcat canyon in Berkeley, and they will make the fascines and plant them. (Just pray that it rains SOMETIME along the way.) And thank you to Riley for sending these hardworking city-soothers our way. This video will teach you about what facines are, and this one could show you the magical way they work in less than 3 weeks! Our fascines will be buried in the unrocky bank.

Still don’t believe it? The day needs more incredulity, so I’m going to show you the very best beaver news out of Canada that was ever filmed. I can’t find a date on this story, and can’t embed it so you will need to perform the onerous labor of clicking on it and watching an ad, but trust me, even if you never trusted me before and never will again,  it’s worth it.

CaptureStarving beavers kept alive by couple after dam destroyed

Don’t you LOVE these people? Someone give them a bag of sweet potatoes right away!

Fnally I got a delightful email from Rusty in Napa yesterday because the beaver pond in Tulocay creek was visited by a whopping 5 pairs of hooded mergansers that evening. He was surprised how people shy they were in such an urban setting. But very kindly shared these photos. The beautiful one is the boy, and the rusty hairdo is the female. Enjoy.

HM napa

Hooded Merganser at Tulocay Creek – Rusty Cohn

hmpairs Napa

Hooded Merganser pairs – Rusty Cohn


Sometimes traffic can do what trapping cannot

   Posted by heidi08 On February - 25 - 2015Comments Off

CaptureDam shame: Bike path beaver may have bitten the dust

THEO DOUGLAS The Bakersfield Californian 

 The body of a large paddle-tailed rodent was found early Tuesday in the traffic lanes of southbound Mohawk Street north of Truxtun Avenue, suggesting Bakersfield’s fabled bike path beaver — scourge of local saplings — may have died.

 Exact identification will be difficult for although the decedent appeared in excellent condition, conclusively proving its origin will be nearly impossible for obvious reasons.

 Its time in these parts may date back about 15 years, according to residents who have told The Californian they remembered it in the southwest before the Park at Riverwalk was built.

 A relatively harmonious co-existence with city officials and bike path users was shattered in 2007, when — for reasons best known to itself — the bike path beaver quickly downed nine trees, causing $4,500 in damage near Riverwalk.

 California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials issued a kill permit after an appeal from city officials — then relented after residents called for a stay of execution.

 Instead, city officials made plans to ship the animal off to Tehachapi, and wrapped 20 Riverwalk tree trunks in orange construction mesh — which, you know, sticks in the teeth.

 ”Isn’t that a sad thing? We get a little rain and the little guy comes out and he gets hit. He was too happy,” said Revelo, who offered to pay to have the animal stuffed and donated to a local museum.

In every possible way Bakersfield has eschewed education on the topic of beavers. They wrapped trees with plastic fencing and now claim the damage of a lone beaver spanned over 15 years. After gunning for him over the course of three presidential terms, Bakersfield believes it was finally run over on the highway. And a generous lawyer has kindly offered to stuff it and put it in a museum.

Mighty white of you, Bakersfield.

Of course WE can look at the calendar and see that it’s February and know that means dispersal month. We know that this was never a single beaver but a family. And some two year old disperser was heading out to seek his own territory and was hit by a car, which apparently surprises people every single time it happens. But we know it happens a lot.

Just think how surprised they’ll be when the ‘ghost’ of the bike path beaver starts chewing those new trees!


Thanks to Robin from Napa who painstakingly filled in the dates on this, we now can see exactly what happened to beaver trapping in California over the last 65 years.

real list

Total Beaver Trapping Take in California (Does not include depredation)

And they wrote back her query with this blow by blow.

  •   Beaver reintroductions occurred from 1923-1949.
  • In 1939, legislation was passed to allow for control of beavers where they interfered with infrastructure.
  • In 1950, the counties within the Sacramento and San Joaquin valley were opened to year-round beaver trapping.
  • In 1955, the California Fish and Game Commission to institute a quota system for the take of beaver in northern counties and on the east side of the Sierra.
  • In 1956, the quotas were lifted from the counties opened in 1955.
  • In 1957, the beaver was classified as a furbearing mammal and provisions for their take when found to be damaging crops or property were instituted (FGC §4180, 4181).
  • In 1958, some Sierra Nevada counties were opened to beaver trapping.
  • In 1959, Inyo, Mono and Siskiyou counties were opened to trapping.

And from 1960 onwards trapping went down and depredation became the drug of choice. Which brings us to where we are today when the vast majority of beaver deaths go uncounted and unreported and we have no idea how many we kill ever year.

And no idea what effect these beavers could have on our salmon and water storage if they were allowed to live.