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

The Martinez Beavers

Pity the misunderstood cattle ranchers

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RICHARD COCKLE/ Loren Stout, a John Day ex-logger and ex-rancher, inspects a beaver dam along Deer Creek in Grant County. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife opened up at least one beaver dam along this busy tributary of the John Day River System last spring to enable migrating steelhead to pass. Biologists say beaver dams benefit fish, but low water made it impossible for steelhead to get past some dams. Stout claims he freed two 29-inch steelhead that became caught in a dam. (RICHARD COCKLE/THE OREGONIAN)

Beavers, fish and cows: Restless co-existence in Grant County

 JOHN DAY — Here in Grant County, bumper stickers sometimes proclaim, “Beaver Taught Salmon How to Jump,” a light-hearted commentary on the lowly animal’s place in the biological hierarchy.

 But the North American beaver, the world’s third-biggest rodent, is more abundant today in the Beaver State than you might expect. And a thriving beaver population can be too much of a good thing, according to biologists for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, who partially dismantled a beaver dam southwest of John Day in May to open up Deer Creek to migrating steelhead.

 “We got reports from two or three members of the public that there were steelhead stacked up below this beaver dam,” explained ODFW biologist Jeff Neal of John Day. He blamed a disappointing winter snowpack and undersized springtime flows for making it impossible for threatened steelhead to get past the dam.

Don’t you just hate when steelhead get backed up behind a beaver dam in low flow conditions! Those poor fish! If only there were NO beaver dams and all the streams were dried up entirely! Then those fish could just ride trail bikes up the creek bed in comfort. Good lord this article annoys me. Why on earth do cattle ranchers get interviewed about their unfounded fears about steelhead? And why do those fears get written down as if they had some kind of merit?

But ranchers like Stout and Stangle argue that summertime water in the pools behind dams turns warm under the sun’s heat, which they say can’t be good for steelhead.  “The holy grail of the steelhead is the temperature of the water,” said Stangel, adding that beaver aggravate that problem by gnawing down trees, alder and underbrush that otherwise would provide cooling shade.

Wrong, says Corrarino. Beaver dams force the ponded water down into the soil, where it is cooled. The water then recharges summertime river channels, providing fish with chilly, plentiful water, he said. In winter, rain and snowmelt wash woody debris into beaver ponds where it shelters fish, “so they don’t use all their energy fighting the current and avoiding predators,” says Corrarino.”

Of course not all beavers are busy ruining our fish with their traffic-jamming-dams. Some beavers that don’t build dams are like an entirely new species and have crazy unpredictable habits.

ODFW biologist DeWayne Jackson of Roseburg said many beaver don’t build dams, and thus go unnoticed. Known to biologists as “bank beavers,” they are nocturnal and hide in underground burrows that sometimes extend 50 feet back from a stream, with an underwater entrance, said Jackson.

50 feet back from the stream? Really? To paraphrase Jerry Maguire,  “Show me the DATA”. Funny story, in Martinez folks were certain that beavers tunneled miles from the water and undermined the city, and when Skip dug up the lodge he found one hole the size of a bathtub. Period.

Neal, the state biologist in John Day, would like to see more beaver and more dams in Oregon’s high country. Many intermittent streams in the John Day River Basin that are dry this time of year could have year-around and late-season flows if beaver were present, he said.

 That, Neal said, would benefit ranchers and rural residents.  “Out here, water is everything,” he said.

 Some ranchers aren’t so sanguine. Still convinced beavers harm fish more than they help, the cattlemen worry they’ll be stuck holding the bag.  “There is a lot of fuzzy math when it comes to the government, period,” said Harry Stangel, 68, of Dayville. “Cows are always gonna be blamed.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what it looks like when when information is knocking at the door and STUPID is still holding it tightly shut from the inside. I suppose it’s nice to see this argument taking place in Oregon where there are at least voices of reason in the mix. But honestly, should we even be having this discussion in John Day of all places? Have you ever seen this 2010 report?