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

The Martinez Beavers

Category: Dispersal


We’ve entered the phase of the festival planning where things are falling into place. The brochure proof from the printer was ready yesterday and it’s fully ADORABLE. Our grant from Kiwanis arrived in the mail and an unexpected treasure floated our way in the offer of help from this group.

Have Fun, Give Back, Run!

I was surprised I’d never heard of this group before but read they were formed this very year, which is as good a way as I know to demonstrate the beaver spirit still exists in Martinez. Their lovely website says:

The Martinez Beavers Run Club (MBRC) was established in 2017 as a way to bring people together through a shared interest in running. The club is a fun way to meet new friends, explore new areas and continue to strengthen the sense of community that is being cultivated by the people of Martinez.

Which makes enormous sense because if the Martinez beavers symbolize nothing else, they surely  represent a sense of community! With glowing eyes, I immediately suggested a million jobs for which they could be wonderfully appreciated, and maybe they had a flag or shirts with their logo and wanted to run in the parade? I know Jon would be VERY happy about any cheerful worker who wanted to help set up or take down the event! This is the kind of thing that makes the beaver festival seem imminently possible. Here they are gathered for their coffee run in May.

I hope the Martinez Beavers Run Club is around for many, many years and reminds people cheerfully of the plucky spirit of our beavers which did what no one thought they could (or should) for a decade. They brought out the community in Martinez, and truly they brought out one other thing. Which is the subject of our NEXT discussion.

Alan McDonnell: Do beavers have to be made into a political issue?

It is less than a month since we discovered a family of beavers on a river near Beauly. Watching footage of two kits playing in the water near their lodge, we did not foresee how abruptly their fate would be determined by politicians’ need to be seen to be doing something. We know beavers have been controversial on Tayside, but this corner of the Highlands isvery different.

There is no way of knowing where this population has come from. It is possible they were released, but we think it is more likely they have escaped from a private collection. From evidence along the river, we know beavers have been in the area for at least five years and do not appear to have caused anyone any problems. Trees for Life has supported the return of beavers to Scotland for 25 years. They can improve the health of rivers and lochs, reduce flooding, and create wetlands that benefit many species. So following the announcement from environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham’s last November, that reintroduced beavers can remain in Scotland, we have been looking into the scope for establishing a population in the Highlands.

When we found the beaver family near Beauly, we spoke with Scottish Natural Heritage and proposed engaging with local people to discuss whether these animals could be allowed to stay where they are or look at other options that could work well for both the animals and the community. But shortly after the news reached the Scottish Government, Ms Cunningham announced that the beavers are to be trapped and removed. She is determined to avoid a repeat of the experience on Tayside, where arable farmers have seen crops damaged by an unauthorised beaver release with no measures in place to manage the impacts the species can have on farming. This is understandable – but we disagree with the idea that this should drive a decision to remove a beaver family in a completely different area.

Actively managing how their natural behaviour can affect farming and fishing has been key to these successes and has allowed them to benefit from the positive ways beavers affect the river environment and added to an area’s appeal to visitors.

A knee-jerk response to remove this beaver family will do nothing to address the impacts of beavers in Tayside, but it may deprive the Beauly community and environment of something very special. We have an opportunity here to have a different kind of conversation about wildlife – one that doesn’t lead to conflict and stalemate.

We need to listen to the concerns of farmers and fishermen, but let’s consider the opportunities beavers bring and see if any solutions can work. What have we got to lose?

Alan McDonnell is conservation projects manager at environmental charity Trees for Life

Nicely done Alan! Great letter. And I’m interested in the response you get for that. I’m not convinced they came from a escaped private collection OR an illegal release, since waterways are highways and beavers go long distances even over land. But who knows? It actually makes me think Scotland might be the very place to answer the question no one else could ever manage. Namely: What habitat do beavers prefer?

The impression I got from watching our beavers all those years, and seeing the beavers that tried to break into the habitat, was that beavers PREFER being in a small creek where they can dam, and have a lodge and a pond of their own, but when none is available they’re content to live in a bigger waterway where no dams are possible. (Like  the carquinez strait.) But Dr. Duncan Haley said that he thinks beavers PREFER to be in a large river and only move upstream and do all that work to live in smaller ones when things are over crowded.

The relatively untapped puzzle can best be settled by following a population of beavers in an area where there have been NONE for 500 years so there’s no competition. You see why Scotland is the perfect place to answer this question? Bring on the researchers!

But as for your original question, “Do beaver issues always have to be political?” After a decade of careful research, Martinez can tell you firmly that the answer is

YES.

 


Just as predicted the beaver battle in Beauly, Scotland is heating up. With folks attesting that the beavers have been in the area and all over the area for years – and officials saying the beaver have to be trapped and captured or the salmon will be eaten and the very life of the lochness monster is in danger. If it all sounds vaguely familiar to you that’s because we’ve been here before, way back in 2009 when the first “unofficial beavers” were reported on the river Tay. The government claimed that each unauthorized beaver would be captured and put in zoos. They brought in specialists and managed to capture one unlucky beaver (Eric – who later became Erica when it was learned that she was female).  Erica died in captivity shortly after she was caught, right around the time that officials were realizing that they were way more illegal beavers than there were zoos. I sense another learning curve coming soon, but stay tuned to find out how it all works.

willow wallIn the meantime. we are happy because the good people at bluehost and filezilla taught me to do a backup of the gargantuan website yesterday, our willow fascines we planted with the Riley and the watershed stewards at the annex are fairing splendidly, the bookmarks arrive today and the very talented Amelia Hunter finished this on Wednesday night. It is now at the printers waiting to become beaver brochures.  As always it will take a moment to load but is fully browse-worthy so enjoy!

Brochure-for-printer

All of the UK is scratching their heads this morning and tsking at the news that a mother and kits has been suddenly ‘discovered’ in Beauly Scotland. This is miles away from the Tay or Knapdale, nearest the town of Inverness. At the moment they are exclaiming the beavers were “illegally released” because obviously there’s a beaver bandit of sorts who is running around the countryside stashing beavers were they aren’t wanted.

I mean the dumb animals couldn’t it be doing it themselves, right?

Row over illegal beaver family found near Beauly

Trees for Life said a mother and at least two kits have been observed on a river near Beauly. It has asked that the mammals be allowed to remain where they are or be relocated.

The government has instructed that the beavers be trapped and then kept in captivity. Trees for Life believes the animals have been in the area for at least five years. The presence of beavers has been found previously in the Highlands.

In 2008, one was found dead on a beach at Eathie on the Black Isle after suffering what police described as a “cruel” death after ingesting a large quantity of sea water.

Pohqdefaultlice suspected the animal was linked to illegal releases of beavers in other parts of Scotland.

It’s horrifying to imagine that they would try and trap a mother and kits so early in the summer when they’re obviously young. And more horrifying to think they could capture part of the family and leave a kit or two behind.  This story is literally an hour old as I type this and I can imagine there’s going to be a major ‘call to arms’ on both sides soon. The town of Beauly is over 100 miles away from the River Tay and it’s not like beavers could have travelled up the Tay to the Tummel to the  Garry up, walked over land a few miles and swam up Beauly Firth, because beavers NEVER do that right?

This seems like a good time to remind our readers that Dietland Mueler-Swarze observed in his book on behavior of the animals that beavers can disperse long distance over land and water. In fact he specifically reported on Castor Fiber:

CaptureThat pesky beaver bandit has so much to answer for.

Meanwhile,  here in sunny California the county recorders office contacted me yesterday because they wanted to make a children’s activity book to make sure their services are more visible and of COURSE wanted to pick the best possible mascot for their story. I’m sure you can guess already what animal they picked.

Remember, that the original beaver habitat was right next to then new county recorders building, and its previous head (Steve Weir) was a huge beaver protector. Workers would visit the beavers every morning before they came to the office, or tell us if there were new things in the creek, and they were the one to photograph that turtle laying eggs on the bank. Its second story windows was famously crowded with eager secretaries watching the shirtless Skip Lisle installing the flow device back in 2008.Long, long ago, when Gavin Newsome originally made gay marriage legal for a split second in California, Steve and his partner were famously married IN beaver park. I wrote about the huge historic event in one of my favorite posts back in 2008.

Let’s just say beavers and the county recorders office go WAY back.

So it seemed wholly appropriate for them to want to ‘launch’ their activity book at the beaver festival, and we found them just the right spot. I was given a preview of the book yesterday and because I’m very bad at keeping secrets I’m going to share my two favorite pages with you. Shhh

CCCIn addition to being darn adorable, I’m pretty sure  this is exhibit ‘A’ about the beavers’ civic importance when we have to go to court to protect the NEXT beavers that settle in Alhambra Creek. 🙂


Why is it that folks in the county library complain about having nothing to read? I guess for the same reason your teenager opens the fridge and says there’s nothing to eat. Certainly the state of New York has blinders on when it comes to solving beaver problems, other wise they would have called on Beavers: Wetlands and Wildlife years ago. The answer to their question is a whopping 130 miles away.

Spencer Trying to Fix Nuisance Beaver Problem in Nichols Pond

As the Spencer Village Board of Trustees continues to ponder the beaver problem that has been plaguing Nichols Pond, they sought input from expert Scott MacDonald, who has had to deal with the industrious critters in his capacity as executive director of the Waterman Conservation Education Center in Appalachin.

For years MacDonald has been trying to figure out the best way to curb damage by the beaver population at Brick Pond in Owego. He found an effective method, though it involved installing two bulkheads that control the water level at a cost of $80,000 taxpayers’ dollars. The Spencer Village Board is seeking a more cost-effective way to prevent damage in and around the village-owned pond.

 Trustee Timothy Goodrich, the board’s point person for all matters related to Nichols Park, said the family of beavers is damming up the inflows and outflows to the pond and rapidly destroying the park’s trees.

MacDonald agreed that it was also probably a beaver that chewed through the underwater electrical line that powers the fountain in the center of the pond. Goodrich said he’s not sure whether or not the fountain will be repaired in time to turn it on this summer.

I want to meet the man who sold them the 80,000 dollar solution, because he’s a genius and should work for the federal government. Clearly no kind of flow device or beaver deceiver was ever installed because they have a crew of volunteers pulling out debris on a daily basis.

The handful of volunteers who clean the debris out of the pond’s culverts are becoming fed up, according to Goodrich. “They want to move onto other stuff,” he said of the volunteers, “but they’re so busy with the beavers they can’t do anything else.”

“I don’t blame them,” he added,” because they’re out there every day.” He said that most if not all of the volunteers are older and that the physical labor of clearing out sticks and packed mud can be hard on them.

Therefore, Goodrich said, the board needs to come up with a solution sooner rather than later. The beavers cannot be trapped and relocated because they are considered a “nuisance” species in New York State, the logic being that it’s not fair for people to release beavers elsewhere and pass on the burden to other landowners.

Goodrich said that he is not opposed to having the beavers killed, a resolution that none of the other trustees were very enthusiastic about supporting.

Most of the trustees said they believe that if the beavers are killed another family of beavers will move in. Goodrich argued that trapping the beavers that live in the pond currently would at least give the village time to come up with an adequate solution before new ones decide to make the pond their home.

MacDonald said he considers having the family beavers killed the one “black mark” on his record as caretaker for the pond, even though it was necessary to secure the state funding necessary to save the pond after the flood.

“It was very bad,” he said. “The public got very upset about it.”

We learned so much from that incident. We still don’t have a clue how to solve beaver beaver problems.

Since that time, he has learned how to raise and lower water levels at certain parts of the pond. If he pays attention to what the beavers are up to, he can often dissuade them from building in problematic places because beavers won’t build dams where the water is not deep enough for them to float the big logs they need to start their shelter. Beavers, he told the board, do not like to drag heavy logs.

Even with the bulkheads, MacDonald said there is some manual labor involved. There’s one culvert he has to dig out himself every once in a while or it becomes a major project — over the last winter he let it go too long, he said, and a few weeks ago he had to go out in a wetsuit with a backhoe to clear the stopped-up water flow.

Some level of manual labor seems inevitable if the beavers are to stay, but Spencer Village Trustee Nicole O’Connell-Avery said that she disapproves of setting kill traps.

She said the traps would likely be set underwater and would catch the beavers by the leg, holding them until they drown. She said it sounds like an awful way to die, and questioned whether or not the traps could endanger swimmers, pets or boaters who fall overboard.

O’Connell-Avery was enthusiastic about the idea of installing heavy-duty fencing in strategic areas that would prevent the beavers from building at the pond’s intakes and outtakes. Mayor Christine Lester said she thought this was worth a try.

O’Connell-Avery also offered up the unique but untested idea of population control: catching, neutering and releasing the pond’s male beavers. O’Connell-Avery works at Cornell University, and she said she would ask around to see if her colleagues would be interested in using the pond as a case study.

Beavers live in families of eight to 10, and usually only one family will live in a body of water as small as Nichols Pond. When the family has about eight offspring, the parents kick out the two oldest, who then seek new habitats at neighboring ponds, according to MacDonald. O”Connell-Avery said that this structured family setup might make for an ideal situation in which researchers could trap the males and keep track of the results.

facepalmWhen the family has about EIGHT OFF SPRING THEY KICK OUT THE TWO OLDEST? Really? And you work at Cornell? Are you the frickin’ janitor?

Good lord this riles me. I’m too old for this sort of nonsense. Considering that Cornell already HIRED Mike Callahan  to install a flow device, every one of these folks should know better. That was just over an entire year ago, I guess I can understand why you wouldn’t be up on such ancient history.

I guarantee you Mike didn’t charge the university 80,000 dollars for his installation, by the way. Heck even when we brought Skip Lisle 3000 miles out from VERMONT to solve our problem it didn’t cost us 80,000.

ACK! Someone get me a paper bag to breathe into. The Cornell website tells me that Nicole is a supervising vet Tech at the wildlife animal hospital at the university. She could really make this happen. We can only hope that before she picks up the scapel to neuter these beavers she cracks open a book and reads that beavers enter estrus once a year and young disperse at two years regardless of the family size. Surely she will listen to a reasonable argument?

Given Spencer’s track record so far, I’m not counting on it.


I need to calm myself by sharing the beautiful new sign that arrived yesterday for my beaver booth. Isn’t this lovely? It will hang out from my booth like one of those Ye Olde Shoppe signs!

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Beavers are notoriously vulnerable on roadways. They are low to the ground and usually crossing in the dark which makes them a prime target for roadkill. image002Do they ever use wildlife crossings? Inquiring minds wanted to know. Some fine investigative beaver reporting comes from Robin Ellison of Napa. She was interested in whether beavers ever use the crossings trans Canada offers. You know the ones I mean.

Turns out they have an extensive system to document the wildlife crossings with trail cam footage, and trackpads keep records to monitor use. They were only too happy to share the info with Robin and wrote back:

Thank you for your inquiry and interest in the wildlife crossing structures as they relate to beaver species movements.  I’ve had our database specialist look through the history of wildlife crossing documentation and have found some results for you.  We’ve not been able to find documentation on whether or not road mortality numbers for beavers were affected.  However, we did find information on beavers using the Trans-Canada highway wildlife crossing structures.  There are only 5 incidences that have been documented on all of Banff National Park’s highway wildlife crossing structures (we currently monitor 44 of these structures).  As you mentioned, all the beavers that have been documented on wildlife crossing structures were associated with waterway travel–in these cases the beavers were on a flat pathway in an underpass that has a creek running through it.

Below I’ve listed the information we have on beavers using the Trans-Canada highway wildlife crossing structures.  I’ve also found a photo of a beaver using a wildlife crossing structure (you can see the creek in the background).   

Screen shot 2017-05-17 at 6.07.19 AMNot a ton of observations, beavers are probably less likely than others to venture out of the water. But there are more observations than I might have expected. You can see three identifications came from trackpads which I had to look up. Here’s a nice description from some research they did trying to find which tool worked better. They found that trackpads had their place but cameras were better if there was a lot of wildlife traffic.

Field Data Collection
All 24 CS in the study area were continuously monitored forlarge mammal use since 1996 using track-pads (Clevengerand Waltho 2000, 2005). At least one track-pad (range 2–7pads/CS) was constructed at each end of every underpass,and each track-pad spanned the width of the underpass and was approximately 2 m long in the axis of animalmovement. Track-pads on the overpasses consisted of onetrack-pad located at the center, spanning the width, and were approximately 4 m long in the axis of animalmovement. Tracking material consisted of a dry, loamy mixture of sand, silt, and clay, 1–4 cm deep. We visited eachCS every other day, and at each visit we classified thetracking medium as Good, Fair, Poor, or Too many,depending on our ability to detect tracks. A track-padcondition of Good occurred when our ability to detect tracks

Here’s what one of the cameras documented. That lucky beaver made it safely across and back into the water. (The darker area is the creek). Beaver_external distribution ok

I haven’t been doing this beaver work for very long, but I’ve already come across several beavers and otters struck by vehicles. We could learn a lot from our Canadian friends. Thanks to the helper who shared this information

J. Kimo Rogala, M.Sc.
a Resource Management Officer II
Ecological Integrity Monitoring, Banff National Park
Parks Canada Agency | Government of Canada
Box 900, 216 Hawk Ave, Banff, AB, T1L 1K2

for keeping track of this information. And thanks Robin for doing the legwork! This is a wonderful insight into something we understand very little about. I’m just glad these beavers never had to go through this:

(For the record I spoke years ago with the fellow who filmed this beaver. Not the news site  that made his footage into a comedy. And the witness swears he made it across safely. Although one foot did appear injured in the photos I saw.)