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

The Martinez Beavers

Category: Beavers and salmon


I just had a phone call with Dr. Jimmy Taylor of APHIS in Oregon. He confirms that WS represents only a small portion of the legal take of beavers. Land owners who have concerns can legally kill beavers without a permit. And agencies who want to get rid of beavers can also use private trappers. Wildlife Services is the easiest target, but by no means the biggest. Also they keep records of the method and number taken, and have to report accidental take, while others don’t. 

This is mostly a symbolic shot across the bow.

A little over two months ago you might remember reading here that something BIG happened in beaver world. It was in Oregon where two powerful conservation groups declared they were going to sue wildlife services because they were damaging the salmon population by continuing to trap beavers. Remember that? It was a wild move that had never been done before and it was a big, big deal.

Guess what news broke yesterday?

Threat of lawsuit halts efforts to kill beavers in Oregon

PORTLAND — The U.S. ­government will ­temporarily halt a little-known beaver ­killing program in ­Oregon, where the rodent is the state ­animal, ­appears on the state flag and is the mascot of ­Oregon State University.

Beavers once played an ­important role in the state’s economy, earning ­Oregon the nickname “the beaver state.”

Environmental groups have threatened a lawsuit alleging that the practice of killing the animals reduces the number of dams that create deep pools that are ideal habitat for young, ­endangered coho salmon.

In a letter released Wednesday by a coalition of environmental groups, the government said it will further study whether the actions violate the Endangered Species Act.

Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in the Dec. 27, 2017, letter it would “cease all aquatic mammal damage management activities” directed at beavers, river otters, muskrats and mink.

Wildlife Services killed more than 400 beavers in Oregon in 2016 as part of a federal ­effort to control damage to agricultural fields, timber land and roadways caused by flooding that resulted from beaver dams.

Whoo hoo? A moratorium on beaver trapping! I’m not exactly sure what this means for all the beavers in Oregon, but you can bet I’m going to find out. (In California it wouldn’t mean a heck of a lot because there are plenty of folks that trap beaver besides Wildlife Services). Our counting usually shows APHIS only counts for a third of all the beavers depredated in the state. I’ve asked if Oregon is different and will let you know the answer. For now be grateful that this puts SQUARELY in the public eye the important relationship between killing beavers and harming salmon.

In fact this news broke yesterday in Houston of all places!

Environmentalists say killing beavers to ­mitigate damage to ­private ­agricultural interests harms the environment — ­particularly ­endangered salmon ­species — because the dams help salmon, ­another Northwest icon.

Beavers are “nature’s engineers,” and their complex dams form deep pools in bubbling streams that shield young salmon and give them a ­resting place to fatten up as they migrate to the ­Pacific Ocean, said Andrew ­Hawley, a staff attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.

The dams also have been shown to reduce turbidity in streams and maintain stable water ­levels — even in drought — by blocking and slowing the flow of water. “Instead of going in and just killing them, there are options for live-trapping them and figuring how to move the family units into other ­areas. Let them do what they do best,” he said.

“They do exactly the type of restoration work that the biologists say we need to do for salmon and coho and steelhead recovery, and they do it for free — and better than we could ever do.”

If you want to support these litigation beaver warriors, send them a little love here: Western Environmental Law Center  and Center for Biological Diversity. You know I don’t break out this award ceremony for just any old news story, but this one deserves it. I have already heard from several lawyers watching this case and thinking about launching their own in their respective states.

Two fine articles appeared yesterday in defense of our favorite hero. The first is from the World Wildlife Federation’s Blog post. It has one of my top favorite photos that isn’t ours. The second is from a group called EPIC in Arcata that I hadn’t heard of until last week when Eli Asarian of Riverbend Sciences sent them my way regarding depredation permits. They were considering the impact of beavers on salmon and wondering whether depredation permits took that into account. I don’t know if I was helpful, but I think you’ll agree that something about the article suggests I made a lasting impression of sorts.

Repairing the beaver’s reputation – and our freshwater ecosystems

Engineering for nature comes naturally to beavers. Though they can sometimes pose real challenges for the people who share their space, their dams and the resulting ponds can help restore vegetation, combat climate change, rebuild fish habitat, reduce pollution by capturing sediment, and build resilience against floods and droughts by storing water and slowing the pace of racing streams and rivers. Without beavers at work, most of the biodiversity we associate with wetland habitats – the fish, birds and bugs – would all disappear.

Heather Diamond

Throughout Alberta, there’s a growing demand to find solutions to human-wildlife conflict. And in the North Saskatchewan Watershed (Alberta), where the threats from habitat loss and fragmentation and pollution are ranked “high” to “very high,” beavers are damn important. With some help from WWF-Canada’s Loblaw Water Fund, the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society, also known as “Cows and Fish,” is working to repair the beaver’s reputation, and, by doing so, the freshwater ecosystems it calls home.

Cows and Fish is repairing this rodent’s rep, and reducing human-wildlife conflict, by raising awareness about the important role beavers play in riparian health in their “Living with Beavers” workshops, like this one on Dec. 7.

While the beleaguered beaver may never be welcomed as an ecosystem saver, Cows and Fish is offering communities practical solutions for coexistence so that beavers and their dams – along with the core role they play in wetland health – don’t have to be removed.

Hurray for Cows and Fish! For my money they are the most persuasive unsung beaver advocates on the planet. Not appearing in any PBS documentary or publishing a coffee table book but making a real difference by talking to one farmer at a time, over coffee, in meeting, and putting out excellent resources that make sense to the average viewer.

This is one of their drawing from the impressive “Beaver: Our watershed partner” by artist Elizabeth Saunders.

Now onto the story from EPIC, which stands for Environmental Protection Information Center. See if you can spot possibly my subtle influence.

Why Beavers are Worth a Dam!

Beavers are a keystone species, playing a critical role in biodiversity and providing direct benefits to surrounding ecosystems as well as fish, wildlife and people. Dams created by beavers create wetlands that help decrease the effects of damaging floods, recharge drinking water aquifers, protect watersheds from droughts, decrease erosion, stabilize stream banks, remove toxic pollutants from surface and ground water and many threatened and endangered species rely on the wetland habitat c

reated by beavers. They also produce food for fish and other animals, increase


habitat and cold water pools that benefit salmon, repair damaged stream channels and watersheds, preserve open space, and maintain stable stream flows.


Consequently, incised stream channels, altered streamflow regimes, and degraded riparian vegetation limit the potential for beaver re-establishment. For these reasons, preventing further habitat degradation and restoring degraded habitats are key to protecting and restoring beaver populations.

It’s a great article, with excellent science to back it up. It even has links to the FOIA data from Wildlife Services obtained by Executive Director Tom Wheeler which is what I was asked about last week. It ends with a wonderful plea on behalf of beavers.

Beavers Need Help

While the North Coast Region has a beaver deficit, every year hundreds of beavers are killed in California’s Central Valley by Wildlife Services, a federal agency tasked with (lethal) “removal” of “problem” or “nuisance” animals because landowners view them as a pest. The Department of Fish and Wildlife also issues depredation permits for landowners to trap and kill nuisance beavers on their property.

Instead of trapping and killing beavers that are unwanted in other regions, it is imperative that a relocation program is created, so that beavers can be relocated to North Coast rivers and other places to help restore streams and wetlands. Beaver reintroduction is a sustainable cost-effective strategy, but we need to work with stakeholders to navigate the political, regulatory and biological frameworks to safely restore their populations.

Well, I don’t disagree with that sentiment. Our review of depredation permits has never seen one from Humbolt county in three years, which implies they mostly aren’t there. Eli did tell me about a few sites that have beavers along the Klamath, so fingers crossed they’ll flourish eventually. But you know me, I’m never as happy about moving beavers as I am about working to let them stay right where they are.

And about that headline, I’m not saying my brain is the only brain this has ever occurred. And I’m not saying folks don’t get subliminal influences that just stick in their heads but they don’t realize they saw it somewhere else first. I’m just saying the timing is eye-popping. Eli introduced us on 12-08, and I wrote Tom about our depredation permit review that same day and sent this summary graphic. He replied a couple days later, saying it was a great design and that he had been planning to do the same.

Why Beavers are Worth a Dam!

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I just have to wonder what the headline of this post would have been if we had never met?

If you were crazy enough to visit the website yesterday you probably saw something that looked like this telling you we were closed for maintenance. Of course from my perspective I saw something much, much scarier,  One huge photo, no photos at all. One time the screen was even black and red.  It was quite a day.

I‘m guessing Scott is busily untangling wires as I type, I’m trying to imagine what the finish state will be. At the moment I just know that his vision is way less cluttered than mine. I think of this website like a really rich library crowed with interesting-looking books you might never get around to reading but want definitely want to explore someday. I want it to be a space you could spend hours comfortably exploring or a space you could visit every day and still not see everything. I want it to be immersive and inviting.

But I want the information to be accessible too.

I’m sure we’ll figure out the balance eventually! In the meantime you should take time to enjoy this article about beavers in the tundra where they wonder if beavers moving in will make more habitat for salmon.

Beavers making themselves at home in an unlikely place: Alaska’s northwestern tundra

“It’s kind of the next wildlife you’d expect in tundra, but with much bigger implications,” he said. With their dams and new lakes that hold warmish water, beavers of the tundra ecosystem are thawing permafrost soils through their actions. Beavers could be “priming arctic streams for the establishment of salmon runs” that now don’t exist, maybe because extreme northern waters are too cold for egg development. and co-authors Ben Jones, Chris Arp, Ingmar Nitze, Guido Grosse and Christian Zimmerman are writing about those changes in a paper with the working title, “Tundra be Dammed: Beaver Colonization of the Arctic.”

“We do not know how beavers reached the Beaufort Coastal Plain, but they would have had to cross a mountain range or swim in the sea,” wrote Yukon biologist Tom Jung, who recently saw a beaver dam and winter store of food just 15 south of the Arctic Ocean in northern Yukon Territory.

 Looking at Alaska from above, Tape found beaver dams all the way up the Alatna River and over a broad pass into the Brooks Range and the Nigu River. The Nigu River flows north into the largest river on the North Slope, the Colville. As far as he knows, there are no reports of beaver in the Colville.. But he wonders if beavers were ever present on arctic tundra landscapes. The northern expansion of the American beaver might be a phenomenon people have not yet seen.

I’m not so sure it’s that big of a surprise for beavers to swim through the ocean to colonize new places. They are much better than this than you think. But I hope you get lucky and get beavers soon! You will be richly rewarded.

Vermont has a complex relationship with wildlife. It is home of some of the most progressive beaver management on the east coast and still gives into its hunters and trappers way more freedom than many folks are comfortable with. This article is a nice look at that complexity, I would love to see similar photos about our history in California. Go look at the photos at least. It’s a walk through that part of history that is surprising to remember.

History Space: Vermont’s great outdoors

The cold night air and departure of colorful leaves are sure signs that another autumn has taken hold in Vermont. This is the time of year when nature has been on full display.

This teeming abundance wasn’t always typical of Vermont. The state’s forested hillsides and landscape flourishing with wildlife represents a relatively recent recovery in the last few decades following centuries of unregulated habitat destruction and species loss. Vermont’s rich wildlife heritage was once in jeopardy of being lost forever, and faces many new challenges today and in the future.

“The search for beaver drove the exploration of New England,” said wildlife biologist Kim Royar, a 35-year veteran with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, who has focused on mid-sized mammals from beavers to bobcats.

“Felted hats made from beaver fur were highly fashionable in London at the time, and centuries of over-harvest of wildlife in Europe as well as destruction of forests and wetlands on the continent had driven beavers and many other species there to the brink of extinction,” Royar said.

Despite an estimated 200 million beavers in North America prior to European settlement, the region’s supply of wildlife was limited. By the 1670s, nearly a quarter million beaver had been shipped from the Connecticut River Valley to London, and fur trappers complained that the species had become scarce in the region. By the turn of the 17th century, beavers were thought to have become completely extinct in what is now Vermont due to unregulated trapping.

Royar said that the loss of beavers was especially difficult for the many species that rely on the wetlands they create, such as moose, otter, mink, turtles, salamanders, and the waterfowl and songbirds that nest in these wetlands and meadows.

“Beavers are the architects of the landscape, creating a dense network of wetlands used by a wide variety of wildlife,” said Royar. “Once a beaver uses up all the resources around the pond, they move along, allowing the dam to slowly disintegrate and the former pond to transition to grasslands, which creates another stage of incredibly important wildlife habitat. Given that some valley areas of Vermont may have had as many as 300 beaver dams per square mile, the loss of beavers was a devastating blow to the wildlife of Vermont and represented a dramatic change to the state’s landscape.”

It wasn’t just California that was cleaned out of beavers. The decimation of the beaver population happened all over the northern hemisphere and must have left a drier bleaker continent. We just happened to be the last on the list because we were the hardest to get to. It’s stunning to me to think about the individual players all across the united states that started thinking this should be undone at about the same time. Was it the influence of Roosevelt? Emerson? Muir? Or some big inspiring meeting that got everything thinking differently? Fortunately for Vermont, there were some eco-concious players in the 2oth century that made a difference.

Simultaneously, Vermonters were becoming concerned over the continuing destruction of the landscape and streams. The nascent environmental movement, influenced by writers such as Vermonter George Perkins Marsh, as well as Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman, and conservationists Muir and Roosevelt, spawned the creation of a Board of Fish Commissioners in 1866 to protect brook trout and clean up the waterways. The first game warden force was established in 1904 to protect deer and other game species from overharvest.

n 1921, biologists trapped six beavers at Old Forge, New York and released them in Bennington County. In a little more than two decades, the beaver population rose to more than 8,000 in Vermont. (Photo: Courtesy Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department)

During that period, 17 white-tailed deer were brought from New York state in 1878 and stocked in southwestern Vermont. By the 1950s the deer population had exploded in Vermont. Since then, improved game management techniques, including science-based hunting seasons and bag limits, eventually led to a more stable and healthy deer herd

In 1921, biologists from the newly formed Fish and Game Service — a precursor to the modern Fish & Wildlife Department — reintroduced beavers to Vermont. Within two decades, the beaver population had soared to more than 8,000 statewide, building dams and often coming into conflict with people.

“Beavers returned to Vermont after being absent for more than two centuries,” says Royar. “In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of people had moved in, constructing roads and buildings in the valley bottoms and along riverbanks that had previously been beaver habitat. Beavers naturally attempted to reflood these areas, creating a cycle of conflict with people and their property that continues to this day.”

Just imagine for a moment if they had NEVER reintroduced beavers in Vermont. Aside from all the fish and wildlife populations that wouldn’t have recovered, Skip Lisle would never have tried to protect his grandfather’s land with some fence posts and never invented the beaver deceiver! Which means he never would have come to California and the Martinez beavers would have been killed. I wouldn’t have started Worth A Dam and you wouldn’t have been reading this website!

It’s like the entire nation watched  what amounted to a “beaver-version” of “It’s a wonderful life” some where in the 1900’s and were rightly terrified by the thought of what the world would look like without beavers. Guardian angels like ‘Terrence’ in every state showed the horrors and then made their recovery possible. And all of America suddenly ‘woke up’ as if from a beaverless dream. Somewhere there is a list of reasons WHY beavers introduced beavers in 1921 that I would like to see. It probably describes fish habitat, water storage and wildlife populations and represents all the hard-won jewels of wisdom we forgot over the years.

I think reintroducing beavers is like having children. You have to do it fast while you’re young and foolish. If you wait until you’re smart enough to know all the disadvantages and things that could go wrong it will probably never happen.

Isn’t it amazing how one of the unexpected consequences of having really bad men (and Betsy DeVos) busily looting the country is that it can motivate really good men and women to run for office? I mean, people who have important jobs and are soberly committed to things that take a great deal of their time – people that you would never expect to take an interest in local or not-so local politics.

Say, senior researchers at NOAA Fisheries, for example.

Pollock dethrones longtime incumbent in parks board race

Having successfully ended a dynasty, unseating longtime incumbent Kirk Robinson and claiming the Commissioner Position 5 of the board for the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation District, Michael Pollock’s celebration was much less involved than his campaign.

“I just chatted with a few of the other elected officials, the ones that made it, and had a drink and went to bed,” Pollock said. “A raging party on Bainbridge is one that’s over by 9 o’clock.”

Pollock claimed victory with an immediate, commanding lead in the parks board race Tuesday. He received 54.9 percent of the vote, while Robinson locked up just 45 percent. Pollock had 2,733 votes to Robinson’s 2,243 in the last vote count.

The position on the five-member board carries a six-year term.


Bainbridge is an island just outside seattle where Michael Pollock has lived for years. The park system controls some 1600 acres of parkland and 32 miles of trails. It is a lovely place to live, facing the usual pressures of urbanization and conservation you might expect of an island that’s commutable to Seattle by ferry. And I’m guessing it is going to be a very, very nice place to be a salmon or beaver in the very near future.

Pollock — a former member of the Bainbridge Island City Council, but a new face in the arena of parks — easily outpaced Robinson in the race, who has held the job since 2003.

“Definitely, change is in the air,” Pollock said, referencing both his own victory and the several other newcomers voted in during Tuesday’s election.”Island voters, Pollock said, seemed to have “caught a little bit of the national mood.”


Congratulations, Michael on your big win! You are positioned to do great things for Bainbridge and I’m sure folks know it. I just have to ask, did you actually make yard signs that said “vote Pollock” and distribute them to neighbors? If so, can I please have one? It’s hard to imagine you on election night, watching the votes pour in and taking that official winning phone call.

(I, myself never ran for office, but I learned from my time on the John Muir board that there is a lot of  governance that involves patiently listening to ridiculous things, holding your temper, mechanically seconding motions and trying to stay awake without slipping into a meditative coma.) You are obviously much more  skilled than I, and have dealt with doubters, academic and government blowhards and naysayers all your life. I know for certain that you are more than up to the task!

Big decisions need you, and we are thrilled at your success!