After the State of the Beaver Conference, I mentioned the mandate for Fish and Wildlife services to focus its efforts on a few key ‘SURROGATE SPECIES‘. State supervisor Paul Henson had recommended we think about beaver in this role, and asked for public comment. Since there are about 25 days left for your comments to be submitted, I thought I would offer some reminders and encouragement.
In case you slept through that biology class lecture, a SURROGATE SPECIES is defined thusly:
A species selected as a priority for conservation with the assumption that its conservation will serve to protect many other species with overlapping habitat requirements.
This is a tool for monitoring ecological systems, although obviously not a perfect tool. Just as following the regional price of cardboard will tell you something about the amount of shipping that occurs in the US, but it won’t tell you everything you need to know about the economy, for example. It has been successfully argued that watching ONE token species often misses important impacts to others.
Case in point, if we were to watch beavers as a surrogate species, we would have a good chance at learning about conditions for salmon and birds and dragonflies – but if there were a specific toxin introduced to the water that killed fish and everything that ate them, we might not find out about it at all from watching beavers. Fair enough. As a tool it has its limits. However, if we routinely destroy beaver dams we can assume that all the species that depend on them will be dramatically impacted, even if the food chain is preserved. So surrogacy has an undeniable value.
There are several types of surrogate species, including
Where the conservation goal is to protect a habitat or community of species, an umbrella species may be employed as a surrogate to delineate the size of area or type of habitat over which protection should occur.
Flagship species are used to attract the attention of the public Flagship species can garner sympathy for nature at a global level, as in the case of the giant panda, the emblem for the World Wide Fund for Nature, or at a national level.
Defined “an indicator species [as]an organism whose characteristics (e.g., presence or absence, population density, dispersion, reproductive success) are used as an index of attributes too difficult, inconvenient, or expensive to measure for other species or environmental conditions of interest.” This can include Health Indicator Species, Population Indicator species, and Biodiversity Indicator Species.
I would argue that beaver dams and the wetlands they create, (as well as beaver chewing and subsequent coppicing), make them an excellent candidate for Biodiversity Indicator Species, as well as an Umbrella species, and as it happens, (In Martinez and the entire Bay Area for nearly two years) a powerful Flagship species to boot. The effect of our beavers on our tiny urban stream is still being measured, and there is reason to think that if every city took care of its beavers, every city would have this and more:
In addition to creating habitat for these and countless other species, I would add that beavers make an excellent SURROGATE SPECIES because they leave clues that are convenient for burdened agencies to track down. You don’t have to install night cams or get up at 3 in the morning to keep track of beaver. You just need to count dams and chews whenever you can get around to it and keep your eyes open. Even though they can be hard to see, beavers are actually fairly easy to monitor.
Need a few more reasons? In addition to being a Keystone species, beavers are also considered a Charismatic Species which means that children and adults LOVE to learn about them. They can help teachers convey difficult concepts like habitat and ecosystems, which is why they were included in the EPA curriculum for every first grader in California. Beavers also teach problem solving skills, since their challenges are so easily solvable that it might inspire folks to solve other wildlife problems in humane ways.
Last reason? CLIMATE CHANGE.
With more than half of the contiguous States in the U.S. identified under extreme drought conditions last year, we should be more protective than ever of our natural water-savers. Drought conditions are recognized by FEMA as a natural disaster, making counties eligible for federal funds to recover crops, cattle and neighborhoods destroyed by dry conditions. Beavers and their remarkable capacity for water-tending, are one of the only renewable resources we can deploy to successfully combat this ongoing crisis.
I know you’re busy, and life is full of demands. But 431 people read this website on Friday and you each have the power to make a huge difference in the lives of beavers. Fill out the form, or submit your comments here. And if you do let us know, and we would be thrilled to post all or part of your comments on the website to show what a beaver community is capable of.