Finally! The article about our beaver tenure came out! Of course it arrived the moment after I posted yesterday, but it’s perfect for our only-good-news-Sunday. It’s also a well written article by Martinez resident Sam Richards. (Turns out he lives next-door to the house where I grew up – because Martinez!) It is accompanied by Susan Pollard’s wonderful photos and I don’t sound as horrible as I was worried might happen, but I’m never happy when Luigi talks about feeding beavers with a stick. If you want to see the video where I look positively slagged you are going to have to click on the link to find it yourself. I manage one good line at the end, anyway.
MARTINEZ — It started in 2007, when downtown Martinez citizens noticed Alhambra Creek was flowing slow, and that trees along the banks had been gnawed down to little points. The furry, buoyant culprits were elusive at first, but their first dam of sticks, leaves and mud near Marina Vista Avenue told the, er, tail.
After winning an early fight over their very lives, given concerns about downtown flooding, the beavers went from cause celebre to cause for adoration. There were (and are) “Martinez Beavers” T-shirts and bumper stickers, and the 10th annual Beaver Festival will take place in August.
“Who had even heard of beavers in town before?” said Heidi Perryman, president of the nonprofit Worth a Dam group. Someone she met literally walking down the street told her that beavers lived a few blocks from her Martinez home.
“It’s actually pretty common, it turns out, but I didn’t know it then,” said Perryman, whose preservation efforts have helped give the local beavers a dash of national notoriety, and even some international interest, given the recently rejuvenated efforts to reintroduce Eurasian beavers in England, where they had been extinct since the 1500s, killed for their pelts (and as an acceptable edible substitute for fish during Lent).
“It’s been both a feel-good and a do-good story for Martinez,” said City Councilman Mark Ross, an early champion of the beavers. The rodents themselves have, by and large, done well in the creek; the creek’s ecology has indeed improved, say environmentalists who credit the beavers; and Martinez has become known for something beyond Joe DiMaggio, John Muir and the Shell oil refinery.
A feel good story for Martinez! Thank you for that quote Mr. Ross, I think I’ll put it in my city grant application. It’s nice to see the story remembered in such detail. I sent the reporter a copy of our newsletter which prompted him to think about it. Like pretty much everyone, he had no idea ten years had passed already.
At Luigi’s Deli, about a block from Alhambra Creek, a wall is packed with photos of people owner Luigi Daberdaku has met over the years. Most of them, he said, came downtown to find the beavers.
It didn’t take long for the beavers to win his and others’ hearts. Daberdaku fed them apple pieces — on a long stick. “I saw what the teeth did to the trees; what could they do to my hand?”
Daberdaku didn’t support downtown property owners who initially wanted the beavers gone. Neither did most who spoke at a rowdy November 2007 City Council meeting at Alhambra High School, where everything from moving the beavers to embracing their tourism potential to renaming the high school sports teams from the Bulldogs to the Beavers was discussed. Many invoked the name of a famous environmentalist son: “What would John Muir do?” One woman said, “We don’t want to be known as a refinery town that kills beavers, right?”
Former Martinez mayor Harriett Burt said learning the science of the beavers changed her mind. “It raised awareness about the creek environment in general,” she said recently, “and it’s been a good thing.”
Good Harriet! And Bad Luigi! I remember the night we caught him feeding apples with a stick and told him to stop. I hoped that was the only time. But that’s what happens when an entire city raises beavers. Not everyone is a good parent. The reporter even talked to Skip, which I’m sure amused him.
But the beavers’ real stay of execution may have been the “beaver deceiver,” a water bypass pipe under a dam, installed by Vermonter Skip Lisle in 2008. Designed to fool beavers into thinking they’re successfully damming a waterway, the pipe “secretly” carries water under the dam to prevent flooding.
Lisle still marvels at his Martinez assignment. “I was building a beaver deceiver, and there were throngs of people there, media, and helicopters overhead. It was unique.”
Perryman and the Worth a Dam group have kept beavers in the public eye, even when they were absent from Alhambra Creek. Beavers’ images adorn downtown murals at one creek crossing, and on a “tile bridge” downstream with children’s depictions of the beavers. The Martinez Beaver Festival, an intimate gathering at its 2008 beginning, now draws hundreds to the small patch near the Amtrak station that some call “Beaver Park.” For two years, a group from Oakland led by a city environmental stewardship analyst took the train to Martinez for lessons on how beavers renew urban streams.
Worth a Dam has also inspired other beaver champions. Caitlin McCombs found that group’s work while looking for help saving beavers near her home in Mountain House, near Tracy. McCombs then started the MH Beavers preservation group.
“I never knew before that beavers serve as a vital keystone, and that they promote an overall healthier environment,” said McCombs.
Caitlin! What a wonderful quote! We are so proud to have been part of your V.I.B.E. (Very Important Beaver Education). She won’t be joining us for earth day this year because she has a conference to attend for college, and we will miss her. But I feel that we helped her raise the awareness in Mountain House and she will think differently about beavers for her entire life. That makes me entirely happy.
By October 2015, the beavers were no longer deceived by the black pipe and built new dams downstream before leaving altogether soon after that. Some of the 24 Martinez kits had died, and others moved on. The original mother beaver, with a new younger mate, left, too.
But Perryman and others were overjoyed when, on March 5, a beaver was seen in the creek near downtown. It’s been seen at least twice since, and photographed at least once.
Does this mean they’re back? With three verified sightings, Perryman says yes.
Then again, were they ever really “gone?” While registering for a marathon recently, Councilman Ross said he was from Martinez. “The guy … said to me, ‘How are those beavers?’ Everywhere you go, the legacy of the beavers remains.”
Beaver legacy! That’s what we have. Of course., I’d rather have the actual beavers, but hey, it’s way more than most cities ever get. Thank you Sam for another fine reminder the beavers promote a city’s good nature. And thank the beavers for being such great sports for a decade even though the city installed a wall of metal through their lodge. What a crazy, beautiful way to spend a decade of your life!
Time for some lovely donations to the silent auction. This week’s treasures come from Litographs in Cambridge Massachusetts. They are a remarkable business I happen to love because they turn favorite literature into wearable art. Literally. The entire text of a beloved book becomes a shirt, card, poster, tote or scarf. Catcher in the Rye, Scarlet Letter, Jane Eyre, Hamlet, The Princess Bride, classic or contemporary.
“We founded Litographs because we had a vision of bringing our favorite literature off the page, onto your walls, and into your wardrobe. We believe in sharing the power of books with more people.“
This is the entire text of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” which they generously gave beautifully matted and ready for framing.
Long ago I had a conversation with owner Danny Fein about possibly working with the now-public-domain text “In Beaver World” by Enos Mills. While he wasn’t sure this was a project they would tackle any time soon, he personally made this for our event. Look closely because that is the entire book. Thank you Danny and friends at Litographs! For this beautiful addition to our silent auction.