Well, the wine country fires are nearly as deadly as the Oakland Hills fires now, and have taken more homes and plenty more acreage. The entire town of Calistoga was evacuated last night and the two massive sidewalls of fire around Napa are probably going to meet up today, which is terrible news for our friends and the Tulocay beavers. To top it all off Cal-fire just announced a red flag warning for much of the entire state, which means the whole thing will get worse before it gets better.
(I was vaguely remembering this morning how much people said they hated 2016, but they are going to remember it with fondness after this horrible year.)
The good news is that we heard from Rusty Cohn of Napa yesterday who is not missing but on vacation. We also heard from Susan Kirks of PLAN who said that Petaluma is terrified but holding steady. And our plucky little Martinez beavers have decided to forge ahead and rebuild one of the dams that were recently ripped out. Since there is fresh mud on the smallest dam, we can assume they must have repaired the larger too, even though we can’t see it. So we will take heart from their resilient spirits and fiddle on while Rome burns.
Knee-deep in muddy water, Skip Lisle wrestled with a metal fence, a key component of his invention, the Beaver Deceiver. On the morning of Sept. 29, deep in the woods of northeast Maine, Lisle pieced together the simple, durable device that he designed with one goal: trick the beavers, and in doing so, save the beavers.
Constructed on the upstream end of a road culvert, the device would prevent beavers from damming up the culvert and flooding the gravel road, something that is extremely common problem throughout the state.
“You hear about beavers being industrious and loving to work,” Lisle said. “That’s a myth. They’ll always choose the easiest damming site.”
Where humans see a gravel road with a culvert in it, beavers see a dirt dam with a tiny hole in it. As water rushes through the culvert, it calls to these natural builders, and their instinct is to “repair the dam,” block the culvert with sticks and mud so the area will flood, expanding their habitat. It’s what beavers do … unless you can somehow stop them.
That’s where the Beaver Deceiver comes in.
Maine is really a hotspot of beaver IQ at the moment. In the past two years I’ve covered stories as progressive as I’ve ever seen, and several that are equally backward – with hunting and trapping listed as the only solution. There is clearly some controversy going on there. But I’m hopeful with articles like these that beaver attitudes are moving in a good direction.
Growing up in rural Vermont in the 1970s, Lisle witnessed how beavers can rapidly change a landscape to benefit many other species of wildlife. On his family’s land, beavers constructed a dam across a waterway, creating a pond that expanded over the years, attracting a wide variety of animals to his backyard.
“There were so many animals using it, different species, and that stuck with me my whole life,” Lisle said.
When Lisle was bout 15 years old, the local beavers started damming up a culvert on a town road that ran through his family’s land. He realized that he needed to stop them or the road would soon be flooded. If someone else took action, the beavers would likely be killed. So he took charge and got creative.
Constructing a fence around a culvert is the first step in building what Lisle would later call a Beaver Deceiver. But that invention was years in the making.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in geography from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, Lisle worked for ten years in construction, mainly doing painting and carpentry work. He then returned to school to earn a master’s degree in wildlife management from University of Maine in Orono. His thesis was on beavers, and more specifically, the wetland habitats they create.
“[Wildlife management] has always been my calling,” Lisle said. “I just didn’t answer it at first.”
Ahhh Skip! What a great article about a great man with a vision. Thanks for giving Maine such a lovely view of how and why to do this. And thanks for being our hero when we needed it. If folks need proof that it works, give us a call. Martinez was happy to function as a ‘test case’.
Now there are two more fantastic beaver stories on my waiting list I’m eager to get to. Assuming I’m not too stricken by fire-grief tomorrow to do my job, tune in for a great story of saving urban beavers in Port Moody BC.