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

The Martinez Beavers

Category: Beavers and trout


There are plenty of folks whounderstand the importance of beavers at both ends of the United States. And not nearly enough in the middle.  Flyover country, as its called, doesn’t take kindly to beavers. So you can imagine how pleased I am about these two entries. The first is from Ohio and the second from just across the great lakes in Milwakee.

Ohio beavers

When I was a young fella and still living in Maine, one of the greatest things you could run across in the wild was a beaver dam. Most of the streams and brooks in my area held populations of wild brook trout. A beaver dam on a trout brook meant one thing to me. Bigger trout!

The dam usually backed up enough water to form at least a small pond, or in some cases, a very large pond or backwater. After a couple of years, these ponds let the brook trout population grow to larger sizes than in the shallow, narrower brooks. Their still waters let large populations of insects flourish and provide the trout with more than an adequate diet.

I have seen ancient beaver dams that were over a quarter of a mile in length and higher than 10 feet in places. However, a beaver dam of any size on a trout brook was a welcome sight. Normally, in most Maine trout brooks, the trout average about seven or eight inches in length with occasional ones over 10 inches.

Brook trout have to be one of the tastiest fish ever to have swum in an icy cold brook regardless of its size. In fact, after attaining a length of a foot or more, they don’t seem to taste as good. Don’t get me wrong — they are still at the top of my list of food fish no matter their length. There are no wild brook trout out here in Ohio, at least, not to my knowledge. If there were, I guarantee that Ohio’s attitude toward the beaver and its dams would change in a hurry!

My experience out here with beavers is limited. All I know is that there is a population of them at Lake Logan. However, from what I have been able to ascertain with my own eyes, any laws and regulations pertaining to beaver here in the hills are totally ignored and/or not enforced. Every time I have seen a beaver dam in this area, in very short order, it disappears. I have seen, and photographed, several beavers that had been shot and killed at the lake.

Foxholes make strange bedfellows. There are precious few folks in Ohio that care about beavers. So I’m going to be happy about this columnist who appreciates them because the trout get bigger in their ponds. (And everything else, too, by the way). Of course he doesn’t realize that beavers don’t dam large rivers because they don’t need to. And since there’s no dam there’s nothing to draw attention to their presence and get them killed.

They aren’t different beavers. They are the beavers that happen to survive.

Obviously the distinction between beavers that build dams and beavers that don’t build dams is a mysterious one for lots of people. The truth is there isn’t much mystery at all. Beavers build dams when they need to create deep water to protect their offspring. If there is ALREADY deep water there is no need to  do it.  That is all. Researchers have plucked beavers from deep streams (where they maintained zero dams) and swooped them upstream to little streams where dams were necessary. Then sat back to observe them BUILDING DAMS 0stemsibly for the first time.

It’s instinct, baby.

(Although instinct that is honed with practice I’ll say. Because we saw our beavers get better at building over time, and we saw that there were skilled beavers and stupid beavers in our 10 years of field research here in Martinez. Dad and Reed were the best dam builders of all 30 beavers. But everyone tried.) Even beavers in rehab ‘try’, With newspapers or towels or whatever they have on hand – er tooth;<You will see this confusion pops up in this nice film from Milwakee as well, when the woman from the urban ecology center remarks that ‘they don’t have the dam-building beavers’ there. They’re the same dam beavers!  We will cut her slack. It’s a nice film and an easy mistake when you’ve haven’t had local beavers in 120 years.

I’m also very fond of the landowner whose so happy to have them back on his property.

This nice image comes from the Getty museum. I love everything about it but I can’t figure out why it’s shown cut in cubes. Can you?


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.


Well yesterday was fun, with little messages of encouragement for our 10th year  from folks around the globe. Now it’s time to get back to work. You know what they say, before anniversaries “Chop  wood, carry water“, and after anniversaries”Chop wood carry water“. Or something like that.

Here are two articles that deserve our attention. I’ll start with the grating one first. Why is it every article written about Peter Busher annoys me more than it interests me? Over the years I have come to think he basically knows his beavers, but he honestly doesn’t seem to like them very much.

The Secret Sex Lives of Beavers

The population boom can raise alarms in communities. Beavers are often viewed as a nuisance, causing millions of dollars in damage each year by chewing fences, trees, and decks. They build dams, which leads to flooding of homes, crops, and railroads.

But some behaviors can be beneficial, says Peter Busher, a College of General Studies professor of natural sciences and mathematics and chair of the division. Beaver dam building expands wetlands, whose functions include filtering toxins from water, supporting biodiversity, and mitigating floods.

Peter Busher poses with beaver captured for analysis

Busher has been studying beavers for four decades and was the first person to track the animals by tagging them with radio transmitters. He does his research in the Quabbin Reservation in Central Massachusetts, where 150 to 300 beavers con­stitute the nation’s longest-studied population, says Busher. Hoping to learn how humans can better coexist with beaver populations, he examines mating habits, birthrates, group structure, and how the animals migrate from one area to another. His findings could inform deci­sions about how communities respond to beaver activity and manage the animal’s population, both in Massachusetts and across the country.

Although beavers are among only 3 percent of mammals that are socially monogamous, raising their young exclusively with one partner, researchers do not know much about their pairing behavior. Do the parents also mate with other beavers and raise a mixed brood, or are they sexually exclusive? Busher wants to find out. He suspects that genetically monogamous beaver populations—those that tend to mate with one partner—increase more slowly and may stay in an area longer. If one of these populations were removed because of nuisance activity, he says, the area would likely be free of beavers for a while. But if the population were more promiscuous, new beavers could move into the area at any time; communities would then need to develop a long-term animal removal plan.

Promiscuous beavers? Honestly? Is that honestly what you think? Who thinks like that? Have you looked at every OTHER variable in their habitat that might differ between various beavers to rule out that food availability, or population, or stream gradient and prove that these it doesn’t influence which beaver are promiscuous and which aren’t? I’m sure, as a scientist, you would do ALL THAT before LEAPING to the assumption that DNA is responsible. I mean this is almost like race research.

How much trouble would you be in if you were posing that certain ethnicitys were more promiscuous?

The best research I have read on the topic described beavers as “opportunistic monogomists” – meaning if the right conditions happened to arise they would take advantage of them and mate outside the pair bond, and if they never arose it would be mostly okay with it and get on with the business of taking care of the family. I remember being amused when Rickipedia commented that this was pretty much the same for most male humans.

But Dr. Busher is trying to prove that it’s a beavers genes that make him roam. So that those prolific beavers we can kill more, and the faithful homebodies we can work with.

Are you sure you teach in Massachusetts? Because this theory is starting to sound positively republican to me!


The article that really interested me today comes from the irreplaceable George Monbiot and discusses the use of better language about ecology to capture public interest. Rusty of Napa sent it my way and I’m glad he did.

Forget ‘the environment’: we need new words to convey life’s wonders

If Moses had promised the Israelites a land flowing with mammary secretions and insect vomit, would they have followed him into Canaan? Though this means milk and honey, I doubt it would have inspired them.

So why do we use such language to describe the natural wonders of the world? There are examples everywhere, but I will illustrate the problem with a few from the UK. On land, places in which nature is protected are called “sites of special scientific interest”. At sea, they are labelled “no-take zones” or “reference areas”. Had you set out to estrange people from the living world, you could scarcely have done better.

The catastrophic failure by ecologists to listen to what cognitive linguists and social psychologists have been telling them has led to the worst framing of all: “natural capital”. This term informs us that nature is subordinate to the human economy, and loses its value when it cannot be measured by money. It leads almost inexorably to the claim made by the government agency Natural England: “The critical role of a properly functioning natural environment is delivering economic prosperity.”

I’m fully on board with the need to use language that enlivens and engages us rather than regulates our attention. But sometimes we are talking to politicians or biologists and need to convince them, and we think that kind of language carries more sway? Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the only thing that matters to decision makers is what we celebrated yesterday: public pressure and votes. So engaging the public is more important than sounding objective.

This is my FAVORITE part.

On Sunday evening, I went to see the beavers that have begun to repopulate the river Otter in Devon. I joined the people quietly processing up the bank to their lodge. The friend I walked with commented: “It’s like a pilgrimage, isn’t it?” When we arrived at the beaver lodge, we found a crowd standing in total silence under the trees. When first a kingfisher appeared, then a beaver, you could read the enchantment and delight in every face.

Our awe of nature, and the silence we must observe when we watch wild animals, hints, I believe, at the origins of religion.

Something about that sentence feels very, very true for this woman who spent so many years in the company of beavers. (Not that we were silent the whole time.) Our beavers had train whistles and garbage trucks to get used to, and could handle a little talking. But there was definitely awed silence at times. Like when kits emerged or when an uncommon behavior was scene.

And it sure felt like the very best parts of church to me.

if we called protected areas “places of natural wonder”, we would not only speak to people’s love of nature, but also establish an aspiration that conveys what they ought to be. Let’s stop using the word environment, and use terms such as “living planet” and “natural world” instead, as they allow us to form a picture of what we are describing. Let’s abandon the term climate change and start saying “climate breakdown”. Instead of extinction, let’s adopt the word promoted by the lawyer Polly Higgins: ecocide.

We are blessed with a wealth of nature and a wealth of language. Let us bring them together and use one to defend the other.

Thank you, George for another beautiful column. I’m envious of the people who got to walk alongside you on the way to see those special Devon beavers. We very rarely feel reverence for what we consume or eliminate as inconvenient. But I have seen it time again on children’s faces watching our beavers.

Maybe its reverence, more than science, that protects nature.


This has been a busy month. I knew another pin was going to drop, but Ohio? Who would have guessed?

John Switzer: Beaver moon highlights species’ revival in Ohio

CaptureThis month’s moon is called the beaver moon, and it was full Saturday.

It is called the beaver moon because now is when beaver dens are snug and stocked with food in preparation for the winter. All fall, beavers have been cutting branches and taking them to their dens so that they can dine on the bark and wood. Sounds like a tasty winter meal.

There’s another reason the November moon is called the beaver moon. Hal Borland wrote in the book “Twelve Moons of the Year” that by November the beaver’s pelts are in prime condition. Back during this nation’s settlement, beaver hats were all the rage here and in Europe, and pelts were considered the same as currency. Their pelts were so desired that by the 1830s, beavers had been extirpated from Ohio, said Jim McCormac, a wildlife biologist.

But beavers are again relevant because they have returned to all 88 Ohio counties, entering the state from the north and east, McCormac said. McCormac said Ohio is home to an estimated 30,000 beavers. He also said that if beavers live in your area, its biodiversity and natural heath are profiting “big-time.”

Many plants and animals benefit from beaver dams and the ponds they create. He gave the example of the beautiful wood duck, whose population is increasing partly because of beaver dams.

“There are no better ecological engineers,” McCormac said of beavers.

Capture

But having beavers in the area is not without its negative consequences. When they dam up creeks and streams, they sometime cause the flooding of farmland and other places that humans rely on.

I’ll give you an example. Early last spring I went out to Glacier Ridge Metro Park near Dublin and the park’s wetlands and a few of the nearby bike trails and hiking paths were covered by water. Beavers had dammed up the small stream that flows through the area and, by the end of the winter, caused a small flood.

But all was not lost. The Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks placed pipes through the dam so the water level could be easily lowered mechanically. “That allows us to drop the water down and not interfere with the beavers’ activities,” said Peg Hanley, spokeswoman for the parks system.

WOW! Jim McCormac is a wildlife biologist who knows his beavers! My goodness that’s exciting to read from the state. You can tell the columnist, John Switzer of the Columbus Dispatch, is not exactly sold on the flat tailed animals yet – but this article is a formidable start. I’m terribly pleased!

I was so impressed that I had to go searching for Jim McCormac and found his nature blog, Ohio birds and Capturebiodiversity. It is a wonderful collection of photographs and information. Jim is photographer and a self-described naturalist. The website has been around since 2007!

“I am a lifelong Ohioan who has made a study of natural history since the age of eight or so – longer than I can remember! A fascination with birds has grown into an amazement with all of nature, and an insatiable curiosity to learn more. One of my major ambitions is to get more people interested in nature. The more of us who care, the more likely that our natural world will survive.”

Obviously his site has enough respect and readers to get attention, and his opinions about beavers are making a difference. Thanks Jim! You are welcome any year at our beaver festival!


The salmon suit was ALL over the news yesterday. I was thrilled to see it even made the radio in Oregon. Yesterday CBD actually had a matching donor so all the money that came in from the news was doubled!  I didn’t even realize it the announcement was cleverly timed to match the beaver moon which was apparently strongest in the wee morning hours last night. Everything about this must have gotten wildlife services attention. Lets see where this goes!

More treats to follow, because this wonderful letter by Connie Poten of Missoula Montana just ran yesterday in the Independent Record. Connie is the secretary of Footloose Montana, and writes a powerful letter. It has a few things that need tweaking but my goodness it even has a NEW FACT THAT I LOVE. And that so rarely happens anymore.

Let beavers work to prevent fires

Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Service, called beavers this term is blocked. [Editors note: the name she writes he called them is very cool but not as yet unconfirmed by the forest service or Pinchot scholars so for now consider it cloaked.] Tens of millions of beavers created vast wetlands in North America, nourishing Native Americans, fish, wildlife, forests and meadows with life-giving water. Then came the European fur trappers, and in less than 50 years, Montana had no more beavers at all. Eastern Montana dried up as a result. Finally, beavers were reintroduced to recharge aquifers gone dry and save water from draining away.

Starting July 7 with the Crow Rock fire near Miles City, Montana turned into an inferno. The Lodgepole Complex fire burned 400 square miles. Montana became the epicenter of drought — the hottest and driest summer on record  —and got smothered in smoke. By Sept. 11, more than 1 million acres had burned. Animals burned alive and died from smoke inhalation; a coyote was seen with a leg burned off. Seeley Lake was plunged into toxic darkness for six weeks. Montana’s tourism industry shut down in much of the state. Hundreds were evacuated and homes burned. Two firefighters died.

We now face the cost of fighting these fires. Farmers lost $400 million in crops, ranchers were hit hard and the tate budget is spiraling downward. It doesn’t have to be this bad. We could make a small change that would help contain fires. We could eliminate recreational trapping of beavers.

Beavers create ecosystems. They build dams that hold ponds and restore streams, wetlands and floodplains. They turn hardpan into rich soil. They supply water for municipalities, irrigation and wildlife. Seasonal streams flow year-round and groundwater is stored, thanks to beavers. Beaver wetlands act as firewalls, mitigating forest fires. Firefighters use water from the ponds. When beavers gnaw down cottonwood trees, they spur more growth — cottonwoods thrive on disturbance.

As warming temperatures threaten cold-water fish like trout and coho salmon, the cold water at the bottom of beaver ponds makes a perfect habitat for juvenile fish. Beaver ponds nurture grasses, trees and shrubs, creating nesting sites and food for songbirds, forage for game animals and most species. Beaver ponds improve water quality too, by reducing sediments and pollutants.

In a time of accelerating climate change, drought and fire, we need beavers more than ever. They work for free and restore our precious water. What are we waiting for? End recreational beaver trapping now. Let our beavers go to work.

Isn’t that an AWESOME letter? Connie deserves all our praise. She even talked about Skip Lisle and beaver deceivers! No wonder Footloose Montana is so successful since even its secretary can deliver a powerful lesson with a pen. I love the quote about beavers being “water factories”. You know I’ll be tucking that away to share sometime in the future!

Una familia de castores ‘monta’ su casa en la cuenca del Ebr

Another delight was sent by Duncan Haley of Norway yesterday but the beaver world was TOO busy to share. This is an article about beavers in Spain that were supposedly introduced without permission. (Duncan swears the accusation is legit and because he has inside information so I trust him.) The article is in Spanish but use google translate if you want to read some really amusing beaver misunderstandings! The farmer has been watching the beaver activity using a night cam. I was especially interested in the interaction between the beaver and this Genet so I clipped that short interchange. It is easily the likely the most delightful beaver moment I will ever post here. I especially love the moment when the Genet waits to see if the beaver is following. Enjoy.

Don’t you think they play that every night? If you, like me, find yourself suddenly wondering what a Genet is, Duncan explained “Like a cross between a marten and a cat with spots like a leopard and a long ring tail
Wow. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Here’s one in the color.