Because the beaver isn't just an animal; it's an ecosystem!

The Martinez Beavers

Day: November 4, 2012

Lots to talk about this morning. I’m told some visitors from Sonoma are coming down tomorrow for a beaver viewing because they heard my talk at Audubon and wanted to see the heroes themselves. I went down this morning to verify arrival times with the new clock. Mom came back over the secondary at 5:50 and jr swam around under the footbridge at 6:25.

Some odd Martinez beaver remnant conversations on the bridge this morning. A woman who said she moved to Martinez from out of state with her daughter in 2006. When all the excitement started they were drawn to hang out at the beaver dam and were picked up by a news crew. The little girl pointedly told the camera “We just moved here. Martinez is our home now. And it’s the beavers home too”.

Her daughter is now 15.

Also a boisterous cycling man who helpfully explained that he was the one who “started” this whole beaver thing by protesting on the dam when city staff was trying to remove it. (I actually remember this story.) He forced them to carry him off the dam and was arrested  he says by the officer who was later shot in Martinez (Paul Starzck). He noted that the fallen officer was such a decent guy he let him drop off his bike at home before bringing him to the station, and he even talked about it at his funeral.

He also explained that he was really mad at that “Swede named Bork” who came in and took down their dam by so much. (Swede? Bork?) He had tried to explain that they need that protection from predators and of course did I know after he did it that one kit died and got all scratched up by a raccoon?

Which I repeat here primarily to note that the Martinez Beavers weren’t ever protected because it was the right thing to do, or the easy thing to do. They weren’t preserved because they were good for creeks or birds or children. They survived only because they were functionally family pets and “owned”  defensively protected by many, many people. People who talked to their neighbors and friends, and news media. They said good things and wrong things and had remarkable insights and repeated gossip and got facts incorrect. People who thought beavers ate fish and lived in the dam and people who still swear they regularly see them in the daytime. Now those who have seen me wince at the conversations will know that I have an allergic reaction to misrepresenting the facts about beavers, but it doesn’t matter because my accuracy didn’t save their lives.

Their populism did.

Are the beavers still important to Martinez? Well, this campaign flyer in the Gazette this morning appears to think so. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that he’s not using that ad with the South of highway 4 crowd, but it’s a funny thing to see anyway. I used to joke about the “beaver bump” but I don’t think there was ever anything as unified as a beaver voting block. We were libertarians and democrats and republicans and teachers and policemen and seniors and shopkeepers and health care workers and homeless people and criminals. We were motivated by compassion and ecology and revenge and sour grapes and good will. We were the original big tent: eclectic with a purpose. And that’s why we won.

We got the city to hire “Bork the Swede”.  Ha ha.

Happy Almost 5 year Anniversary by the way!

Which makes this new article from BBC Nature timely to say the least.

‘Beaver tourism’: can it work?

By Stephen Moss, Naturalist

Reintroducing a species is never easy. The cause is championed by some, while critics question the wisdom of the species’ return, as with the case of the European beaver’s return to Scotland. Hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 16th century, the beavers are part of an official reintroduction trial in Knapdale Forest, Argyll.

Since the trial began, controversy has surrounded the project but it could be that reintroduced species can benefit local economies as well as ecosystems. Given that the beaver is the first extinct native mammal to officially return to the wild in Britain – the wild boar has also come back, but by accident rather than design – you might think this would be cause for celebration.

But the beaver continues to cause controversy, with a small but persistent alliance of landowners, anglers and foresters ranged against its return.

This is a smart, well written article and our scottish friends are very happy with it for a good reason. The answer of course is “no, not all by itself”. Tourism alone can’t justify beavers in Scotland or Martinez for that matter. But when you combine it with birds, and fish, and mammals, and dragonflies, and community spirit and the wash of bad will you would have incurred to get rid of them, the beaver equation is looking pretty nice.

Even for the illicit beavers:

Earlier this year SNH finally announced that it was suspending any attempts to capture beavers along the Tay, a decision that will be reviewed in 2015. In the meantime a working group has been set up to advise landowners on how to co-exist with beavers on their land.

But given that this population now seems to be fully established, any attempts to eradicate beavers from Scotland would now surely be a case of shutting the stable door long after this particular horse has bolted. Sir Lister-Kaye certainly thinks so, suggesting that by 2015 there could be as many as 300 beavers living wild in Scotland.

“We do need a constant on-going educational effort, aimed at a new generation of young people who understand fundamental ecological principles and who can lend weight to the debate about the beaver,” he said.

The reality is that, whether people like it or not, beavers are now firmly established in many of Scotland’s river systems and wetlands. And polls show that the majority of the Scottish public welcomes this new – or rather returning – addition to their fauna.

Paul Ramsay suggests that instead of worrying about beavers, we should be celebrating their return.

“When you consider that in Europe as a whole this creature was on the very brink of extinction, and yet has made an incredible comeback, this is a fantastic conservation success story – and something we really should be boasting about,” he said.

Amen to that, Paul.