This is the introduction I wrote for Penny & John Weigand’s newly released book”The Comeback Kids: The Martinez Beavers.” I thought we could all use a reminder of how and why we got here this morning.
A simple dam of mud and sticks alters the flow of water in the stream, enriching sediment, increasing insect life and changing the terrain. Better bugs mean more bug-eaters, and soon there are fish, turtle, otter and heron at the site taking their share. Native Americans called the beaver the “Sacred Center” because his dam created habitat for the other creatures that followed. Ecologists call Beavers “A Keystone Species” because when we remove them from the habitat the entire ecosystem collapses.
In a little town in Northern California, beavers have been changing things plenty. Historic Martinez is the County Seat of Contra Costa, and although it became a refinery town in the 1900’s, it was once considered the “Gateway to the Gold Rush” where it was the final home of renowned environmentalist John Muir. The beavers moved into Alhambra Creek in 2006 selecting the middle of downtown to set up their lodge and dam. Businesses and residents worried about flooding, because the town’s narrow creek was already working very hard keeping up with the runoff and rainwater. Like many cities, Martinez didn’t understand much about beavers, and the initial decision was to exterminate them. When people got upset by that idea, the city obtained special permission from the Department of Fish & Game to relocate them instead.
The city’s officials may have had a lot to learn about beavers, but they had even more to learn about its residents! The sleepy town quickly changed into a town that demanded to keep its beavers. Residents held a vigil and hundreds attended the council meeting to protest the beavers’ relocation. The organization “Worth A Dam” was formed to help advocate for the beavers and handle any beaver-related costs the city might incur. In a short time, a town where very little ever happened changed into a town visited by local and national news cameras with a host of reporters at the dam site, all waiting to find out what the city would decide.
Beavers change things: it’s what they do. Although at the time of this writing a final decision has not been reached on their fate, our beavers have forever changed Martinez into a national news story, put watershed issues on the forefront of everyone’s minds and shown us how to be a leader in ecological solutions. Our beavers have transformed a fragmented city into a dynamic community where attention to education, the environment and the concerns of property-owners are respected with equal weight. They have bridged gaps, made friends, and inspired children and adults alike.
Maybe beavers will come to change your town soon.
Heidi P. Perryman, Ph.D.
President & Founder Worth A Dam