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

The Martinez Beavers

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My goodness! Yesterday was a whirl of activity with exciting development for the festival pouring in and making me feel like uh-oh it’s really happening! Today the joyful strain continues with two excellent beaver appreciation articles. It’s almost like someone’s been reading my mind. (Or my website)

Ecosystem Engineers in Rivers: How and Where Organisms Create Positive Biogeomorphic Feedbacks

Ecosystem engineering is by definition an interdisciplinary concept, tying together geomorphology (the study of physical processes and forms in rivers) and ecology. Two researchers at Umeå University in Sweden that bridge these disciplines, a fluvial geomorphologist, Dr. Lina Polvi, and a landscape ecologist, Dr. Judith Sarneel, examined the available literature and summarized the range of ecosystem engineers that are found in river environments in their review recently published in WIREs Water.

An important aspect of this work was to determine where various ecosystem engineers have the most impact, in terms of three geomorphic factors—channel width, sediment size and the relative stability of the channel. For example, rivers affected by beaver dams can become more complex and change from being single-thread meandering channels to more complex multi-thread systems. However, although the beaver can be found throughout a river system from very narrow to very wide channels, they will only engineer by building dams and truly alter the river’s form in narrow- to intermediate-sized channels.

This sounds basically like beavers always make a difference but in the right shape streams they make a bigger difference. Fair enough. The article goes on to talk about other kinds of ecosystem engineers and how one should be careful to only put in native ones. Really? Somebody is STILL researching this? They talk about macrophytes as engineers of streams  to which I say HRMMPH! When has anyone ever had a macrophyte festival?

Beavers are sooo much better,

I like this letter to the editor in the Register-Guard much better for obvious reasons,

Beavers important to ecosystems

I appreciated the Jan. 11 article bringing attention to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services’ illicit killing of Oregon’s beavers. During the 1990s, I conducted a research project on the then-state-endangered river otter population in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Because beavers occupied many of the same sites as otters in my 40-mile stretch of watershed, I documented their behaviors as well.

Through my research — and that of many others throughout the country — good river otter habitat is often equated to be a consequence of beaver activity. In fact, through complex science, these ecosystem engineers provide habitat for many other species as well: plants, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and fish — including Oregon’s beloved salmon. Results from research conducted in Oregon, Alaska and British Columbia show that juvenile salmon have higher survival rates in streams with beaver ponds.

Beavers should be revered for their contribution to sustainable ecosystems, not killed to justify an agency’s existence. Two long-time beaver researchers, Bruce Schulte and Dietland Müller-Schwarze, expressed it well: “Given the flexibility of beaver behavior, perhaps we would be better to manage human activity, to use preventive measures to avoid problems with beavers, and to reap the benefits of living with beavers.”

Judith K. Berg. EUGENE OR

HOW much do we LOVE Judith? What a wonderful letter!  Of course ideal otter habitat is the result of beaver work. And ideal salmon habitat and blue heron habitat too. Judith is the author of the very successful book  “The Otter Spirit” which has won several awards, I’m thinking she deserves an award for her letters to the editor too, because “Beavers should be revered, not killed” is a mighty fine sentence.

She is definitely a member of Worth A Dam in spirit! Thanks, Judith.

Maybe it’s just me. But if I lived in a very low-lying area that required extensive levees to even make living there even possible, and I had to make the levees out of soil because it was what I had the most of, I sure would cover that earth wall with fencing or rip-rap or something that burrowing animals couldn’t dig through. At least below the water line where I couldn’t see it. An ounce of prevention, you know, is worth a pound of cure. Or any amount of GPS.

Doesn’t that seem relatively straight forward?

Study of behaviour muskrats, coypus and beavers kicks off

In a new study just launched by a number of Dutch district water boards and knowledge institutions, a team of scientists including statistical ecologist Emiel van Loon of the UvA Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics will be researching the behaviour of muskrats, coypus and beavers. The two-year project is titled ‘Dyke Diggers in Focus’.

standing of beavers’ behavioural patterns and territorial use, meanwhile, would make it easier to detect beaver damage and perhaps even ‘steer’ them away from burrowing in dykes.

To gain a clearer picture of these ‘dyke diggers’, the research will use transmitters equipped with GPS location and activity sensors. The project’s strength lies in pairing of science with practical techniques, with a hands-

Digging in banksides and dykes by muskrats, coypus and increasingly also beavers is causing significant safety risks, economic damage and structural maintenance expenditures in the Netherlands, where flood control is a constant concern. While capturing muskrats and coypus remains as important as ever, better insight into these rodents’ habits may enable faster and more targeted detection and ultimately allow a reduction in not only the number traps that are deployed, but also unintended by-catch and the needless killing of animals. Improved underon component for students, too. Use of this new technology will enable district water boards to answer the pressing question of how to prevent waterside damage through practical insight into the behaviours and territorial use of muskrats, coypus and beavers in the Netherlands. In future, the new technology will also be available to track and study other animals.

Emiel van Loon has been engaged to advise on the design of the experimental transmission component and will focus on questions such as how many animals should be tagged with trackers and where they should be captured. Additionally, Van Loon will be responsible for interpreting the tracking data and creating and validating the movement models to for example predict the use of space for the whole animal populations.

Nothing gives the whiff of modern science that air of prestige like saying it has GPS tracking. Science nerds just go crazy for that, (it’s like labeling anything retail with the words “bluetooth enabled”). People will be more likely to buy it whether it’s useful or not. Far be it from me to make fun of the vividly named Dr. Van Loon or question usefulness of putting a chip inside beaver heads to “STEER THEM AWAY” from burrowing into a wall, but tell me this. If they don’t burrow into your dykes, where are these creatures going to sleep instead?

Maybe creating a floating safe zones that would appeal to these animals would be more useful than this GPS thing? You know, some where to hole up and escape too or for a family to raise its young. Oh and use a couple of those graduate students to find out why no one can tell these species apart will you? Just sayin’.

Left: (Nutria) Castor Impostor ——- Right: Beaver (Castor Canadensis!)

I just got word from Carol Evans of a wonderful presentation she will be doing with rancher Jon Greggs to talk about their awesome work with restoring sage lands with beaver January 30th, 2018. The conference is mostly about ranching, but their part will be in the morning starting at nine. I have such respect for this work. Carol goes right into the lion’s den to deliver her message. You can sign up here.

This is an FYI as some of you have expressed an interest in hearing about the material Jon Griggs and I will be sharing at the National Society for Range Management meeting in Sparks, NV.  I’ll be talking a lot about the effects of managed grazing and beaver colonization on valley re-hydration in the Susie and Maggie Basins.  Jon will also be sharing his perspectives on all of this.  

Restoring and Managing the “Emerald Islands” of the Sagebrush Sea: New Science, Sticks and Stones, and the Eager Beaver


Well, even though Wisconsin eliminated ALL air quality regulations Friday, there are things to enjoy about the return of beaver in the state. Starting with this article.

Something to chew on: Beavers regain toehold as popularity of the Milwaukee River grows

The American beaver is discovering that the lower Milwaukee River is once again becoming desirable real estate.

There are increasing signs of the beaver’s presence: Gnawed trees for miles up and down the shoreline; a ramshackle dam that sticks out of the ice in Lincoln Park; and the most tale-tell sign of all — a beaver lodge near W. Hampton Ave.

The inroads by the largest rodent in North America have been unmistakable, says Cheryl Nenn of Milwaukee Riverkeeper, who has worked for the advocacy organization for 15 years.

“They’re definitely becoming more prevalent,” Nenn said.

Beavers were a fixture in the lower Milwaukee in presettlement times. They are still common in the far upper reaches. But they are making a return to the river on the city’s east side.

“The corridor has become a better place,” Nenn said. “There is improving tree diversity — that’s important — and the water is improving. It’s all of those factors.”


Isn’t that a wonderful temporary house they built Chip? So smart. I’m glad Milwaukee is being visited by more beavers. and that there are  new cleaner rivers for them to inhabit. They can help maintain those streams, you know. If folks stop being so trap-happy and let them do their job.

A nice look at the job they can do comes from this month’s permaculture magazine, which is available online now. You will recognize some of the names in it and I dare say ALL of the photos. (Because apparently everyone wants to borrow from us). The article starts with a short piece I wrote with Mike Callahan years ago, and then goes into a nicely detailed description of flow devices, beaver management, and why beavers matter. When author Timothy Sexauer contacted us in the summer, Cheryl agreed that this was exactly the kind of article where her photos belonged.

Go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time.

Beavers: The Ecological Restoration Agents

For many millions of years, in what we now call the Applegate watershed of southern Oregon, beaver have been the senior landscape engineers. At least 12,000 years ago, humans arrived and established permanent culture alongside the beaver. In the language of the Takelma, the Applegate is called “sbink,” meaning Beaver Place.

By the time the Takelma were violently displaced by the gold rush settlers, fur trappers had already nearly exterminated the beaver. As a result, rivers and creeks flowed faster and wetlands had become meadows, drastically changing the landscape and ecosystems.

That’s a pretty nice way to start an article.  It goes on to talk about how when the beaver population recovered they found that the land had been settled, culverted and  laid with concrete. Conflict often arise. But there are MANY ways to solve them. The author talks about working with Jakob Shockley to keep a basement from flooding. And the story ends by thanking Mike Callahan for his work and celebrating the launch of the Beaver Institute.

Jakob Shockey says the key is mitigating human-beaver conflicts so we can retain beaver where they choose to reside. When they are secure in their chosen spot they will naturally disperse their children further up tributaries where we most need to restore water retention. It is up to us to educate ourselves and others about the many benefits of beaver to the land and, importantly, the ways that we can non-lethally deal with these conflicts.

It is an honor to announce that Mike Callahan recently launched The Beaver InstituteTM as a means to catalyze public awareness at a continent-wide scale. The Institute’s mission is “to be a catalyst for advancing beaver management by providing technical and financial assistance to public and private landowners experiencing beaver conflicts, supporting scientific research, training mitigation professionals, and increasing public appreciation of the beaver’s critical role in creating wetland ecosystems.” The vision is to have “all beaver-human conflicts resolved in a science-based manner to maximize the many benefits that beavers contribute to the environment.”

This was recently shared by beaver-friend Bob Armstrong (Mendenhall Glacier beavers) on his Nature Alaska website. Which is very nice because I needed my kit-fix this morning. Trust me, you do too.

This morning’s Sunday times, which is the widest-read paper in the UK, invites us all to pity the poor, frightened farmer whose very livelihood is hanging in the balance as we consider those horrible beavers.

Gnawing fears over beavers

The Scottish government’s plans to introduce legal protection for beavers while sanctioning lethal culls to protect the environment has prompted concern from wildlife campaigners. Beavers, which were hunted to extinction in Scotland during the 16th century, are due to get legal protection for the first time this year under plans to allow the species to expand naturally.

However, farmers and landowners will be allowed to shoot the animals under special licences issued by Scottish National Heritage to prevent flooding and protect trees from the expert dam-builders.

The approach has attracted criticism from animal rights campaigners who warn that “unofficial persecution” is being replaced by licensed killing. 

Farmers and landowners have opposed the project amid reports that persecution of beavers, including pregnant females, has escalated during the run-up to plans to award the species legal protection.

The Scottish government is expected to place a statutory instrument before the Scottish parliament this year, granting the animals European protected species status.

“Where farmers are concerned about beaver activity on their land, we hope to see a well-funded support programme to resolve conflicts without resorting to lethal control,” said Harry Huyton, the charity’s director. “There are many non-lethal ways of managing the impact of beavers. Above all, we must ensure that the unofficial persecution they have suffered until now isn’t simply replaced by licensed lethal control.”

Mark Ruskell, a Scottish Green MSP, said: “The legislation to protect beavers has faced unacceptable delay and as a result there is a still a free-for-all whereby farmers and land managers can kill pregnant and nursing beavers this year with impunity.

“It’s important that whatever management regime is put in place is not based on the gun.”

I know that the big issue facing folks advocating for the Tay beavers was always permission to kill. People were willing to tolerate beavers IF there was an easy way out.  I’ve come to understand that some trap door has to be built into their protection, but it would be nice if it wasn’t  just a bullet from some  resistant farmer without any oversight at all.

“Specifically, where less drastic mitigation measures — such as use of deterrent fencing and translocation — cannot be implemented, and in addition where a clear public interest in culling has been demonstrated.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said licences to control beavers will be carefully managed by Scottish National Heritage, in accordance with the law related to European protected species.

“But in certain locations, the species can create serious difficulties for farmers and other land managers. That’s why the Scottish government has been clear that beavers have to be actively managed, in line with the practice elsewhere in Europe.”

Andrew Bauer, deputy director of policy at NFU Scotland, welcomed “broad agreement” between the Scottish government, farming and conservation groups that appropriate “lethal and non-lethal management of beavers is essential”.

Alright. Beavers can come back after 500 years and we’ll grant them a thin sliver of protection BUT the moment they cause problems and a flow device doesn’t work or costs too much, we still get to kill them, right?

Maybe the concerned countryside can take a page from this story, which I’m told got  its inspiration from the Martinez Beavers. Cindy Margolis of Golden Gate Audubon sent it my way this morning saying

“Your example of translating a wildlife conflict into an opportunity to do something much better for wildlife AND the community has always been an inspiration, Heidi. So, we’re trying to ensure a safe future for Oakland’s herons and it might actually be on the verge of happening….”

The Great Heron Project

If kids ruled Oakland, black-crowned night herons would already be the city’s official bird. As it is, a group of Park Day School students is planning to relaunch a petition to help protect these night birds that go kwok in the dark—as an ambitious project to relocate the herons’ downtown rookery moves forward.

As third-grade Park Day teacher Devin Homme explained, last year, a group of his students launched a petition to make the night heron Oakland’s official bird, after learning that the largest night-heron rookery in the Bay Area is in downtown Oakland—a less than ideal location, thanks to the fact that heron chicks tend to shove their weaker siblings out of the nest.

“The idea was, if the herons become the official bird of Oakland, then no one will say ‘no’ to them,” Homme said of the petition, which described the herons as being “cool and funky just like Oakland,” and warned that, “their babies are falling out of their trees.”

And now those relocation plans are moving forward: In November, biologists retrieved 130 night-heron and 20 snowy-egret nests from ficus trees on Harrison and 12th streets, and then contractors drastically pruned the trees to prevent more nesting. The next day, crews removed 13 ficus trees around a parking lot that covered the city block between 13th, 14th, Alice, and Jackson streets. No one knows what the herons thought, since they don’t start nesting until February. But passersby expressed concern about the future of the birds as workers cut down the trees.

Margulis said she was glad everyone cares about the herons, but it’s not against the law to remove trees or a night-heron rookery—once nesting season is over. “So, I commend the city and the project developer for taking the relocation project seriously,” she said.

As for the Park Day students, last year they met with Councilmember Dan Kalb, papered Oakland with heron art, and even secured Mayor Libby Schaaf’s verbal support for their petition, which garnered about 1,440 signatures. And you can bet your night-heron breeding feathers that the students are preparing to relaunch their petition, this time with the support of Oakland Zoo, as they track the rookery relocation project

Well I personally would have been happier if they moved the post office and the developers rather than the nests, but still. Investing city monies to protect urban wildlife and getting the community involved is a very positive thing. I am sure it happened because of those kids and their ability to make everyone want to do the right thing. Congratulations Cindy!

Oakland Herons should have a table at the beaver festival!