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

The Martinez Beavers

Category: Beavers and water

Days like today start with a decision. Do I post the really wonderful thing I discovered yesterday or the really annoying thing? Or do I try to post both like sweet and sour sauce in honor of Chinese New Year? It is not in my nature to avoid the irritant, so I think I will give you the unpleasantries sandwiched in between two excellent slices wholesome.

The first is a presentation by Carol Evans formerly with the BLM in Nevada. She presented recently at the Society for Range Management in Sparks Nv. There was a packed crowd of 300 and a host of presenters. One group focused on bringing back the Emerald Isles using “beaver as tools” for restoration. All 30 presentations are now online, but I’m going to share two of my favorites. Feel free to browse any or all of the others.

Isn’t Carol wonderful? She should look familiar to you because she was the woman in that first part of the Leave it to Beaver documentary who wanted to show the stored water to Suzanne Fouty. Carol has the earnest, intelligent, friend-making cooperative style that I most admire. It’s no wonder she could turn hearts in beaver’s favor. One of those grizzled hearts in particular will be the other presenter whose talk I will share at the end of this post. Stay tuned.

Now for the sour. How long has it been since we mocked a truly self-righteous trapping article?  Too long, I said when I saw this in my inbox yesterday. Michael DeWitt of South Carolina wants you to understand that trappers are really much more than little angels of death, and work their dark magics for the benefit of all mankind.

Local trappers a boon to wildlife management

Not all heroes wear capes. Some cruise around in camouflage gear, driving beat-up, green Ford pickups with a dog box in the back that reeks of beaver musk and coyote scent.

Trappers like Jake Gohagan may not be considered heroes down at PETA headquarters, but they are to hunters, local landowners and wild game management-minded folks. Gohagan, a 26-year-old Scotia resident and avid outdoorsman, rides the railroad for CSX during the day but fights invasive species like the dastardly coyote at night. Gohagan has been hunting and fishing his entire life, but began trapping roughly 7-8 years ago.

See? Jake’s a hero! See why I couldn’t resist writing about this? I commented on the article yesterday but it’s been deleted three times as “spam”. I’m quite sure that what ever choice words I had for Jake and the curiously named Mr DeWitt, it wasn’t spam.

“The fur market is gone, there really isn’t a fur market anymore,” Gohagan said, as took this writer on board during a January run of his trap lines. “Everything we do anymore is to improve the wildlife habitat for hunting and farming.”

Native predators and “varmints” like the coyote (a much-unwanted invasive species to our area), fox, bobcat, raccoon, and the like threaten the populations of game animals like the whitetail deer, quail, and turkey, either through direct predation or through disturbing nests and consuming eggs. Hunting that centers around these game animals brings millions of dollars annually into our state, and these dollars pour into wildlife conservation programs that ensure that our children and grandchildren can enjoy fish and game in the coming generations.

“During my first year trapping, I took 26 coyotes,” Gohagan said. “Can you imagine how many fawns 26 coyotes can eat? In my opinion, trapping is the most crucial part of game management.”

Gohagan generally uses live traps or rubber-jawed traps to avoid unwanted injury to animals. Not all animals that are caught are harvested, some are relocated. He baits these traps with commercial baits, often made of meat glands, crawfish oil, or shellfish oil. The smellier the bait, the better. Gohagan also sets conibear and snare traps for otters, which can wreak havoc on the fish population in a farm pond, and beavers, which can be downright destructive and expensive to deal with.

Did you catch that? This modern day St. Francis catches coyotes because he’s worried they’ll eat fawns and they’ll be less deer to hunt. No I’m not kidding. And he catches OTTER because you know, they eat all the fish which means we can’t catch them!

And the beaver? We’ll they’re just downright destructive!

There aren’t many trappers around these here parts because, frankly, it’s hard work and there isn’t any money in it.

“It’s a lost art,” says Gohagan. “There are only a handful of us left. This involves a lot of early, cold mornings. You have to be out there every morning, checking your traps at daylight. By law, you have to check them every 24 hours…It’s a good bit of work and it ain’t for a lazy person, that’s for sure.”

I really really believe it. Serial killing is time consuming and not for the feint of heart.  Ruining nature takes a lot of time and effort and one has to climb into muddy waters and dark holes to get it done. You can’t just wait for death to come to you. You have to wake up and MAKE it!

Perhaps the most rewarding part of this interesting hobby—or mission, as Gohagan thinks of it—are the positive phone calls and remarks from hunters and landowners.

“My favorite part is hearing from the landowners about the number of fawns they are seeing, or their wildlife numbers going up. Plus, I just like outsmarting coyotes. I enjoy it and I wish more people would get involved in trapping. You get to spend time outdoors, away from society, and you get to help wildlife.


Help wildlife? Are you kidding me? “Please don’t help me, next” (Says every wild thing ever.)  I suppose I can imagine a little socipathic ‘Dexter” type praising his true calling by lying this way, but it is BEYOND me why any reporter worth his spit would write down the ridiculous lies he spouts as if it were true.

Megan Isadore says it’s because the trapping lobby is well-funded by the NRA and works hard to promote the North American Model (NAM) which emphasizes that trapping is necessary for wildlife conservation, This article and others like it is a symbol of their success.

Maybe. But I’m partial to the notion that these “man-crushes” seize reporters because they are sick of their desk jobs, copy machines and coffee cups and like to imagine themselves on the great frontier swinging a pelt over their shoulders. (more…)

Cheryl sent out our announcement for the beaver festival to exhibitors last night. We immediately had two confirmations! One from JoEllen Arnold of Nor-Cal bats, and the other from Alana Dill of face painting by Alana. Off to a good start, that always makes me happier.

(Plus a good start with actual beavers! Did you see the footage yesterday? Scroll down to view our new mascots.)

With all the commotion, I’ve been waiting for a space to talk about Rick Marsi’s latest column which ran as part of USA Today, intriguingly titled:

Great Outdoors: State of the swamp

So much for the State of the Union address. It is time for the State of the Swamp.

Loyal readers may remember I gave a State of the Swamp address some 15 years ago. The big news back then was beavers. They were everywhere, building dams, cutting trees, flooding roads, reproducing like crazy.

Much debate as to their worth ensued. Bipartisan rancor ran rampant. Pro-beaver forces saw good overshadowing evil. Our region’s influx of beavers had created countless new wetlands, they said. These wetlands, in turn, had created nesting habitat for mallards, wood ducks and other waterfowl.

Flooded trees had succumbed. Downy, hairy and pileated woodpeckers were chiseling nest holes from their decaying wood. Herons had benefited from all the new water created by beaver dams. Frog and dragonfly numbers had spiked, supporters insisted.

“Wetland, schmetland!” the other side shouted. All those beavers were cutting down trees in their yards, killing timber stands, clogging road culvert pipes with their clutter.

It was quite a debate. I stand here to report that it still rages in some quarters. While it does, beavers are holding their ground. Because of their presence, the state of the swamp remains good.

Pro-beaver forces! I like the way that sounds! A noisy debate over whether beavers are of value or a nuisance. That sounds like every day since this website first breathed it’s life 10+ years ago. I’m always interested in how the argument ends.

Waterfowl numbers have reached the highest levels in recent memory. Great blue herons appear everywhere. The trilling of toads provides deafening noise every spring. More wetlands also have created additional rainwater impoundments.

During thunderstorms, runoff can do one of two things. It can rush unimpeded to rivers and streams, depositing in them potentially damaging sediment. Or, it can flow into a wetland, deposit much of its sediment there and run on toward the river much cleaner.

The latter is clearly the scenario of choice. I am pleased to report local wetlands continue to help keep our waterways clean.

After praising beaver wetlands he goes on to mention the less wonderful “crafted wetlands” installed by developers who need to restore some nature after their big creation. He says they’re nice enough, but nature (BEAVERS) do it best. He ends the column with:

Go forth strong of purpose and always remember: A swamp is a wetland, and we all know a wetland is good.

Sounds right to me.

The smith canal takes water from the San Joaquin river in to the interior of Stockton to feed Yosemite lake just south of the University of the Pacific.   It was originally created as a passage way for barge ships carrying or picking up agriculture to and from the region. It is now lined with homes and docks for pleasure boats. American legion park houses the old barge turn around point which is now called a ‘lake’ and lined with trees for recreation.

Gee, I wonder if anyone we know is enjoying those trees.

Fitzgerald: A modest proposal for smith canal

Beaver or beavers unknown are gnawing down trees around the lake in American Legion Park.

Mark Farnsworth, who with wife Liz spotted unmistakable beaver chew marks while walking their dog, said he believes the beavers are not building a dam but a lodge.

“These guys don’t have a stream to block,” opined Farnsworth. “They’ll build a den down lower.”

Beavers build DIY dams on streams to surround their mud-and-wood lodges with a pond as protection from predators. They also eat underbark. The North American Beaver used to be so prevalent around Stockton that city founder Charles Weber nicknamed Stockton “Castoria,” after the beaver’s Latin name, Castor Canadensis.

“We’re unaware of that issue happening,” stated Offi

cer Joseph Silva, spokesman for the Stockton Police Department, which includes the Animal Services Division.

Silva added, “Our Animal Control officers are only equipped to deal with domesticated animals.”

As fate would have it, there’s a long-running controversy over a flood control gate proposed for nearby Smith Canal, which feeds the lake. Perhaps, instead of spending millions, flood control officials should just step back let nature take its course.

Hmm. Isn’t that a very interesting column? Mr. Fitzgerald thank you! Although being in Stockton which depends so dearly on its levees, the odds of these or any beaver being allowed to do their work is zero percent. If once upon a time the area was so full of beavers it was nearly called “Castoria”, that is because it was so full of marshy water and reeds there was little space to build anything at all. The creation of levees divided up the town into actual land and actual water, and the area guards those levees with its very life – for a good reason. Their great worry is that a beaver or muskrat wikl burrow into a bank, weaken the levee and send the whole place underwater. They spend considerable time and money every year trapping out whatever threats they can find.

Which is why I like this article so much. If there’s one thing folks from Stockton hate more than beavers, its wasting their hard-earned money.  Telling them they could save some by letting these beavers live will likely lead to some interesting head-scratching.

Last night was an awesome beaver advocacy battery recharge. The raviolis were delicious, the company was lively, and the wine was free-flowing. To start the evening everyone took a little field-trip to Susana Park to see the site of the new festival next year. There was much delight to imagine where tents and trailers could go and how the park would look with a giant chalk beaver pond in the middle.

There are a precious few things that make you feel like the beaver decade is starting out on the right foot – er paw. But this was definitely one of them. 


Once again a report from is unintentionally promoting beavers. You would think they would have a designated beaver monitor or something just to stay alert for these stories. It’s clearly an oversight on their parts, but I try to do what I can.

Streams can be sensors

Scientists at Michigan State University have shown that streams can be key health indicators of a region’s landscape, but the way they’re being monitored can be improved.

New research featured in Ecology Letters showcases how streams can be used as sensors to diagnose a watershed’s sensitivity or resiliency to changes in land use practices, including the long-term use of fertilizers. Using streams as sensors – specifically, near the headwaters – can allow scientists, land-use managers and farmers to diagnose which watersheds can be more sustainably developed for food production, said Jay Zarnetske, MSU earth and environmental scientist and co-author of the study.

“We were surprised to see that the streams were good sensors of long-term nutrient conditions,” he said. “Our methods show that we can learn much from a relatively small number of samples if they are collected more strategically than current watershed management practices dictate. This understanding is critical in protecting aquatic ecosystems and ensuring human water security.”

Human activity, especially agriculture, has polluted freshwater ecosystems across the planet, causing massive ecological and economic damage. Excess nutrients from fertilizer and fossil fuel can trigger toxic cyanobacteria blooms and expansive hypoxic dead zones, undermining the capacity of ecosystems to provide the food and water that sustains human societies, Zarnetske added.

So what does this have to do with  beavers, you well might ask. Ahhh wait for it…

“The manipulation of phosphorous and nitrogen in the landscape is one of the greatest threats to the fate of humanity and the rest of life on this planet,” Zarnetske said. “Most people have no idea that the human manipulation of the phosphorous and nitrogen cycles is occurring, is affecting nearly every place on the planet and is one of, if not the greatest, current threat to the fate of humanity.”

Wow. I never even read a quote like that. And never thought of phosphorous and nitrogen as a threat to humanity. Did you? I knew it was a byproduct of agriculture that wasn’t good. And could create ‘dead zones’. But it never occurred to me that having a lot of ‘dead zones’ could make you end up -well- dead.

Hmmm, it seems to me I’m remembering something that gets rid of phosphorous and nitrogen on the landscape. What was it again? It starts with a ‘B‘.

Beavers create nitrogen sinks

Already known as a keystone species, research shows that beavers in North America can also sink excess nitrogen in the watershed

There are estimated to be around 30 million beavers across North America. As a keystone species, beavers create richer ecosystems around them. By building dams, they hold water down on its way through the habitat – retaining the flow during times of drought and slowing it down during heavy rains and floods. This creates habitats for other endangered species such as toads and songbirds, while beaver ponds create nurseries for juvenile salmon. However, a study by the American Society of Agronomy says beavers are doing something more: they now represent a relatively new and substantial sink for watershed nitrogen.

Beavers bring environmental benefits


Results revealed the interconnected pools created by beaver dams increased the retention of organic matter by up to seven times and the level of aquatic plant life 20 fold. Levels of agricultural pollutants were also reduced in areas occupied by beavers, with concentrations of phosphorus halved and nitrate levels lowered by more than 40 per cent.

Now I’m no scientist but if someone told ME that you could get reduce one of the GREATEST THREATS TO LIFE ON THE PLANET by more than 40 percent by letting some beavers live in your creek I’d say “Where do I sign up?”
Wouldn’t you?

More lovely reporting on the big beaver decision out of the UK this month, this time for all too see in the Guardian!

UK to bring back beavers in first government flood reduction scheme of its kind

A valley in the Forest of Dean will echo to the sound of herbivorous munching next spring when a family of beavers are released into a fenced enclosure to stop a village from flooding, in the first ever such scheme funded by the government.

Chris McFarling, a cabinet member of Forest of Dean district council, said: “Beavers are the most natural water engineers we could ask for. They’re inexpensive, environmentally friendly and contribute to sustainable water and flood management.

“They slow the release of storm water with their semi-porous dams, decreasing the flooding potential downstream. Water quality is improved as a result of their activities. They also allow water to flow during drought conditions. Financially they are so much more cost-effective than traditional flood defence works so it makes sense to use this great value-for-money opportunity.”

The plan for the village of Lydbrook, Gloucestershire, may soon be joined by other schemes. The environment secretary, Michael Gove, has indicated that the government may support other schemes to restore the beaver four centuries after it was driven to extinction in England and Wales.

Well, how about that for re-branding! Instead of whining that beavers can cause flooding get an entire country to broadcast that they actually can prevent flooding. And some great data to back up that claim. We are all thrilled to see the excitement accompanying this new release. The value of beavers is being shouted from the the rooftops and you know that always makes me happy.

The Forestry Commission will monitor the impact on wildlife – shown to be hugely beneficial – as well as recording the water flow in the brook. “The beaver has a special place in English heritage and the Forest of Dean proposal is a fantastic opportunity to help bring this iconic species back to the countryside,” said Gove. “The community of Lydbrook has shown tremendous support for this proposal and the beavers are widely believed to be a welcome addition to local wildlife.”

Ahhh that’s so wonderful. I’m almost jealous thinking what it would be like to start here, with the science behind you, the papers and public support, and almost everyone on your side. Can you imagine what a wonderful beaver festival they could pull off? Folks all over the country could come, there could be deals with the local B&B’s. With tours that teach proper beaver watching – maybe you could earn a badge that says your a qualified beaver observer – and everywhere wildlife education, music, beaver games. Maybe include local crafts, beer and sausage rolls? Jon would be in heaven.

Closer to home, our own beaver research has changed at least ONE mind in the Sierras. Thanks to Sherry Guzzi who sent this article yesterday that I somehow missed. The article mostly talks about how beavers make their way in the winter, but as you can see,it starts by covering the sierra nativity of everyone’s favorite topic.

Getting Ready for Winter

The beaver has long been thought to be non-native to the Sierra, but new evidence proves otherwise. As winter approaches, we will be working right alongside this “native” resident as it too gets ready for the cold, hard season.


First, let’s get the controversy out of the way. Despite the claim that the beaver is non-native to the Sierra, 2012 research proves otherwise.

“The beaver was trapped out a long, long time ago, which lead to early naturalists erroneously assuming that beavers weren’t native to the Sierra,” said Will Richardson, co-founder and executive director of Tahoe Institute for Natural Science. “This got passed down as dogma among agency personnel.”

However, in a California Fish and Game article authors Richard Lanman and Charles D. James debate the assumption that beavers are not native with evidence from 1988 when several beaver dams were re-exposed at Red Clover Creek, approximately 60 miles north of Truckee.

“Radiocarbon dates from the different portions of the remnant beaver dam were AD 580, first construction; AD 1730, dam was reused; and AD 1850, repair of a significant breach occurred,” Lanman and James reported. “After 1850, the dam was abandoned and buried beneath sediment. In 2011, another beaver dam was exposed in Red Clover Creek; its radiocarbon analysis dating at AD 182.”

Sherry Guzzi of the Sierra Wildlife Coalition summarizes the results of the study: “This is not to say that today’s Tahoe beaver is from the original Sierra Nevada population, but there were beavers in Nevada’s Humboldt River and other locations in Nevada from where they could have migrated. Some of today’s beavers are definitely descended from when beavers were re-introduced to Sierra Creeks by California Fish and Game in the ’30s and ’40s, specifically to restore watersheds.”

Hurray for beavers! Hurray for Rick and Chuck and hurray for Sherry! It’s so nice to see that our research actually stuck to some of those more stubborn minds like one of those burrs you get in your socks in the summertime. I love to think of these things falling into place over the years. It feels like a eons ago we were working on the Sierra paper, but I guess its very much still news to some.

Lanman et al. The historical range of beaver in the Sierra Nevada Calif Fish Game 2012 98(2)