Where Have All the Beavers Gone?

   Posted by heidi08 On November - 25 - 2009
This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series Featured Articles

Before the beavers came to Martinez, in all the wide world we had only seen one. A single tail slap when we canoed up this river in Mendocino. (Mybluehouse is my non-beaver account). It was thrilling, and I wished we had seen more, but it had to suffice until beavers moved in downtown.

After our beavers moved in we felt like we were finally getting a glimpse of a treasure that always hid beneath the surface before. Given the distance between Martinez and Mendocino there must be thousands of beavers just waiting to be discovered by someone had the time and energy to locate them. As avid canoe-ers we are fairly familiar with the waterways between here and Big River. Surely we would come across more beavers now that we know what to look for?

Only yesterday I got an email from Brock Dolan talking about “reintroducing” beavers to Russian River. I wrote back with disbelief. What made him think beavers weren’t there already? In a large river beavers won’t build dams, and they would use bank lodges which are harder to spot. He very convincingly told me had explored every mile of the river and all of its forking tributaries, and knew people who lived on it, kayaked it, hiked it every day. He sent a round of emails to people who had done water studies for DFG, or for their own non profits. And everyone agreed. No beavers in Russian River. None at all.

Where are they beavers near the coast? Well we have the ones reported in Sonoma a while back. A colony in Big River in Mendocino. That’s it. That’s the known population density. Remember that Fort Ross, the Russian trading post, grew specifically out of the beaver trade.

However the founding of permanent British and American Settlements on the Pacific Coast , took place as part of the terrestial, rather than maritime,  fur trade. The westward expansion of trading outposts took place with amazing rapidity as the commercial exploitation of beaver and other valued pelts devastated faunal populations from local rivers and creeks.

Historical Archeology: Back From the Edge Martin Hall & Stephan Silliman pg 275

So beavers in every “river, brook and rill” were trapped and skinned and the fur traders were so good at their job, the remaining beaver along the pacific are few and far between.  To think that I personally have seen all the beavers from Martinez to Mendocino is a terrifying thought.

We know we have beavers in the delta. We heard from someone who had two in a creek in Danville. We know they’re in Los Gatos Creek. We know they’re in Sonoma and Sutter Creek. We know there’s a colony in Cordelia. Where are the beavers on Russian River? Willow Creek? Napa River? Gualala River? Where are the beavers in the Albion, the Noyo or Ten Mile River?

“Dead!” I answered, and amiably
“Murdered,” the Hangman corrected me.

California is “hollow” of beavers. Its center echoes with the ring of places they should be but aren’t. No wonder NOAA says that loss of beaver habitat has been the prime assault to Salmon. No wonder we complain of droughts and damage. No wonder people think beavers eat fish, or mistake them for Nutria or muskrats or otters. No wonder a city could go into two years of apoplexy by being forced to deal with this simple social mammal.

It’s a beaver wasteland out there.

Series NavigationYes, Virginia. They can have sandy paws…Our Beavers in Bay Nature
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