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

The Martinez Beavers

From Barcelona to Benicia

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This morning I made a trip down to see how the beavers fared in the night. The water had topped the primary dam and the ducks were enjoying easy passage over the gap. Even the filter fence was invisible, and I assumed the little lodge they had built was flooded or washed away. Experience has taught me that beaver sightings on the morning after rain are rare, but I was surprised to see another couple there looking with binoculars at the sight. They had cameras and head lamps. They approached with curiosity.

“Are you looking for the beavers too” The man asked,  with a latin-sounding accent.

I was watching some ripples in the annex at the moment and  hoping they weren’t just ducks, which they turned out to be. I explained that I was but that the beavers could be hard  to see after a rainy night and asked where they had come from and how they knew about them?

“We saw them on the internet” he answered. “We’re from Barcelona.”

No, I am not kidding. It turned out they had stayed in Marin last night and driven here in the morning because they wanted to see them. She was researching marmots in the Pyrenees, and they were both very interested in seeing beavers in the states. They had brought plaster to make a cast of their footprints.

When my head was done spinning to think that someone in Spain was reading our website and had come to see our beavers as a result, I explained that I maintained the site and had been following the beavers for 6 years. They were very surprised, and acted kind of like they were meeting a character from a novel. (Which I suppose they kind of were.) They knew all about the flow device, the controversy, and mom’s death.

He said there was controversy in Spain because some beavers had been introduced on the Aragorn river in Spain, but folks weren’t sure what to think about them because they were eating trees. (!) I talked to them about coppicing, and research showing that migratory and songbird populations increased because of beaver chewing. And all the new wildlife they would get as a result.

They said some biologists worried that this was the “wrong” subspecies that had been reintroduced, which I explained wasn’t a concern. I pointed them to the recent article on genetic testing of castor fiber subspecies which had identified only two real differences and nothing to worry about. I said thatour subspecies were pretty indistinguishable in physiology and behavior, and that they needed to focus on learning to solve problems.Tey said they’d send me photos of their visit and keep in touch.

After I came home I found that there is some confusion about that beaver introduction in Spain and whether it was deliberate, sanctioned or illegal. Nature Iberia website, for example, says

A small but growing numbers of beavers currently live along the River Aragon.  They were introduced illegally, probably by a group of European beaver activists. The beavers began to flourish in what is prime habitat. A timid plan was begun in 2009 to try to control their expansion by live trapping. The EU gave its backing to the cull to avoid setting a precedent, which might open the door to illegal reintroductions of wildlife across Europe, not because these beavers have caused a lot of damage…the introduction of the animals was clearly illegal and irresponsible…

That sounded grim, but I was very cheered to read that thanks to a google translation escapade, the fur trade in Spain had involved “Shipping beaver PELLETS around the world”. Hahaha. And then I thought about Scotland, and the drama about the free beavers of the river Tay. Call me cynical, but sometimes people get confused about whether or not things belong. There are even folks who doubt now that they were ever native to Scotland. I looked around a little more and found this from our old friend Duncan Halley.

Population and distribution of European beavers (Castor fiber)

In 2003, beavers were reintroduced to the Ebro in Spain, with plans for further reintroductions to The Guadalquivir, Guadiana, and Tajo (Tagus) river systems (H. Lea, personal communication).

Doesn’t sound much like a secret criminal act to me. The Aragorn river is a direct tributary to the Ebre, see here. I suppose some crazy ecologists could have sneaked across the border and forced beaver upon the region, but I don’t suppose they’d talk about it to researchers do you? Besides we know beavers can make it a long way in salt water to find new territory and climb over  pretty remarkable terrain, so I’m not even sure reintroduction would have been necessary.

Well, the point is that you have them NOW, and that’s a good thing. I told the earnest young couple to spend time educating themselves about the good that they do for birds and fish and water and climate change and learn how to deal with problematic behaviors when they arise. I told them to talk to their friends and colleages and teach folks what they need to know. Then sit back and let the beavers do what they do best.

Sometimes in life  you wonder whether what you do makes a difference. It can be hard to keep going, and hard to sustain momentum. You wonder whether all the effort and energy you put into a project is really worth it, and whether in the grand scheme of things it matters at all. Maybe you should just leave this work to someone who’s actually trained for it. Does anyone even notice or care?

And sometimes, every now and then, you meet folks from Barcelona who came to Martinez to see the beavers.

Mom beaver 2008: Photo Cheryl Reynolds