Archive for the ‘Beavers elsewhere’ Category

“To Beaver or Not to Beaver”

Posted by heidi08 On March - 28 - 2017ADD COMMENTS

One of the advantages of having ‘beaver buddies’ all over the world is that there is almost always someone on hand to help me get the things I cannot reach. Like this, intriguing headline that requires a paid subscription or a passport to unravel. Fortunately for me, Chris Brooke of the Save the Free Beavers of the Tay FB group leaped to the rescue:

CaptureBeaver fever proves giant rodents are not a dam nuisance

CaptureIt is a wonder that anyone wants to reintroduce beavers almost 400 years after they were hunted to extinction. They sound like a farmer’s nightmare, creating soggy fields, rotten trees and pools of standing water, and infuriate anglers, as their dams are believed to hinder fish migration.

Yet a study into their effect on flooding on a farm in Devon has led to “beaver fever”, a clamour for more, not fewer, of the huge rodents and similar trials across England.

Beavers’ dams control the flow of water after rain and act as natural filters of chemical fertilisers that run off fields. In summer they also stop streams drying up, according to researchers at Exeter University, while coppicing trees creates a patchwork of different habitats that has increased the range of plants and wild animals.

Ooh I’m liking the way this is going. Time for coffee and a comfortable chair while I explore further. Mind you, this is the largest selling ‘respectable paper’ in ALL of the UK, so I think there are going to be folks paying attention. Including all the magistrates, farmers and anglers.

Richard Brazier, who led the initial research, has been asked to carry out six feasibility studies for beaver projects in Dorset, Gloucestershire, Devon and Cornwall. “The science suggests it would benefit society to have beavers in the landscape,” he said.

Naturalists in Wales have applied for permits to release ten pairs in Carmathanshire, while beavers in Scotland have been granted native species status after similar trials in Argyll.

In Devon, the beavers built 13 dams on a 180m stretch of stream inside an enclosure. Water flowing out had 30 per cent less nitrogen than water flowing in, almost 70 per cent less sediment and 80 percent less phosphates.

“Fertiliser getting washed out of soils is a huge problem worldwide,” Professor Brazier said. “It leads to algal blooms that starve the water of oxygen, which leads to fish deaths. It’s one of the reasons we have to treat our drinking water.”

If the difficult beavers of South America are the nagging critical aunt of the beaver world who’s petty complaints you just can’t escape, the epic “TO BEAVER OR NOT TO BEAVER” struggle of the UK is that glowing fountain of praise from your indulgent grandmother. I love hearing them argue about this over and over again because they are repeating the pro’s with a megaphone on an international scale. I don’t want them to ever stop, because who will take their place?

The government has promised £2.5 billion for improved flood defences, including £15 million for natural flood management such as planting trees and adding bends to rivers which have been artificially straightened.

“Most of the money is being spent on concrete,” said Chris Jones, a farmer, who is planning to release beavers upstream of Ladock, in Cornwall, a village that was flooded twice in 2012. “We need our land to store more water, so we don’t have these massive pulses of water after every heavy rainfall.”

Not everybody is a fan of the animals, which can grow to 25kg. A spokesman for the Angling Trust criticised “adding more barriers to fish migration”, while the NFU opposes beaver reintroductions because of “damage to farmland … and the risks of them spreading disease”.

Mark Elliott, of Devon Wildlife Trust, said that farmers’ “biggest concern is that beavers will become a protected species. If they are going to be accepted by landowners, there have to be clear mechanisms for managing the conflicts [between the two].”

Really Mark? Is that really your ‘biggest concern’? That beavers will be protected? Wouldn’t a bigger concern be that there wouldn’t be beavers at all? Or that all your rivers will dry up and that global warming will make it too arid to have them there anyway? Or that Theresa May will turn out to be exactly like Trump. How could the protection of beavers be your BIGGEST concern?

Okay, I’ll give Mark a break. Maybe that was a misquote or taken out of context. Maybe you’re having an off day or your cat is in the vet. It’s mostly a wonderful article. And I’m still very happy about it.  We all should be!


Beaver journaling

Posted by heidi08 On March - 27 - 2017ADD COMMENTS

Now call me petty, but I’m just curious how many times Martinez has been on the front page of the Sunday Times without beavers? You have to admit we looked lovely spread across the front page without a bus accident or a shell explosion. That timeline in the margin was a fun creative writing project. (Of course the mother and kits didn’t come to Martinez before the father because that would be silly.) But never mind, my mother got phone calls. it was seen far and wide and I even got a note from Brock about it!

One oddly irksome response was an email sent to the website from a times reader in Pleasanton who said that she had just returned from a trip to South America were beavers were wreaking havoc and destroying trees because they have no predators. She wanted us to know that even though they’re cute they can be horribly destructive and Martinez should watch out.

No, seriously.

Honestly, I’m so sick of the Patagonia beavers. They are just gumming up the press and confusing folks even more. They should never have been there in the first place. Some greedy Nazi made a tremendously selfish choice and in addition to hurting beavers, he hurt his entire hemisphere. I can’t understand why trapping, eating, or predating by caymen’s and maned wolves haven’t got rid of them already, and they’re just making people think that all the horrible things everyone believed about beavers are true. Introduce some kind of immunocontraceptive and lets get OVER it already.


fro at workAnyway, meanwhile back at the ranch I’ve been bracing myself for the idea that we might not get our stalwart artist at the beaver festival this year. The beloved FRO just found out that her life partner has major health issues and in addition to being terrified she is absorbed with caring for him. As they found each other rather late in life and are blissfully happy so it’s rotten timing, but I guess it always is. It’s truly hard to imagine having a beaver festival without FRO, but I’ve been trying to think of activities that are more ‘crafty’ than arty, so that the show can go on. In the mean time send healing thoughts and prayers her way, because honestly, the Martinez Beaver story would never have lasted 10 years without FRO.

Looking at our mountains of leatherette still waiting to be cut into tails, and thinking with our artists about the wildlife tattoos we have commissioned this year, gave me the idea of making nature journals instead of beaver tails. I was delighted to find this description on the Great Stems blog. Kids would still learn about the wildlife and gather the tattoos then have help placing them on the journal cover before making a nature journal to go inside. This illustration pretty much clinched it for me because I instantly imagined the stick as a beaver chew, for obvious reasons.

The binding really impressed me. You punch 2 holes in the cover and paper and then use a simple rubber band around each stick end by passing it through the holes. It keeps the book firm and allows it to open so you can sketch or record your thoughts. I just had to try one and see. One of the things we have infinite access to is downed wood, and we have had 10 years of learning how to make beaver chews so it’s an obvious fit. I don’t have any tattoos yet, so I used an old die-cut I had laying around from my scrapbooking days. The pleather is a buckskin tan and for this one I used an old twig pencil we had lying around from a former earth day activity. What do you think?

beaver journal

Jack LawsNot just a project but a way of re-learning to see! I’m liking this idea, and if Jon doesn’t have anything to lead tours to, he’d be a great Fro-stand in! Of course nothing can place the actual FRO, who is still in all our thoughts and prayers, but this could be a cool fill-in.  You may remember we’ve already had the most famous nature journal-er of all come right here and sketch our beavers for Bay Nature. What a night, eh?


Posted by heidi08 On March - 26 - 2017ADD COMMENTS

Finally! The article about our beaver tenure came out! Of course it arrived the moment after I posted yesterday, but it’s perfect for our only-good-news-Sunday. It’s also a well written article  by Martinez resident Sam Richards. (Turns out he lives next-door to the house where I grew up – because Martinez!)  It is accompanied by Susan Pollard’s wonderful photos and I don’t sound as horrible as I was worried might happen, but I’m never happy when Luigi talks about feeding beavers with a stick. If you want to see the video where I look positively slagged you are going to have to click on the link to find it yourself. I manage one good line at the end, anyway.

A decade of beavers (mostly) in Martinez

MARTINEZ — It started in 2007, when downtown Martinez citizens noticed Alhambra Creek was flowing slow, and that trees along the banks had been gnawed down to little points. The furry, buoyant culprits were elusive at first, but their first dam of sticks, leaves and mud near Marina Vista Avenue told the, er, tail.

After winning an early fight over their very lives, given concerns about downtown flooding, the beavers went from cause celebre to cause for adoration. There were (and are) “Martinez Beavers” T-shirts and bumper stickers, and the 10th annual Beaver Festival will take place in August.

“Who had even heard of beavers in town before?” said Heidi Perryman, president of the nonprofit Worth a Dam group. Someone she met literally walking down the street told her that beavers lived a few blocks from her Martinez home.

“It’s actually pretty common, it turns out, but I didn’t know it then,” said Perryman, whose preservation efforts have helped give the local beavers a dash of national notoriety, and even some international interest, given the recently rejuvenated efforts to reintroduce Eurasian beavers in England, where they had been extinct since the 1500s, killed for their pelts (and as an acceptable edible substitute for fish during Lent).

“It’s been both a feel-good and a do-good story for Martinez,” said City Councilman Mark Ross, an early champion of the beavers. The rodents themselves have, by and large, done well in the creek; the creek’s ecology has indeed improved, say environmentalists who credit the beavers; and Martinez has become known for something beyond Joe DiMaggio, John Muir and the Shell oil refinery.

A feel good story for Martinez! Thank you for that quote Mr. Ross, I think I’ll put it in my city grant application. It’s nice to see the story remembered in such detail. I sent the reporter a copy of our newsletter which prompted him to think about it. Like pretty much everyone, he had no idea ten years had passed already.

At Luigi’s Deli, about a block from Alhambra Creek, a wall is packed with photos of people owner Luigi Daberdaku has met over the years. Most of them, he said, came downtown to find the beavers.

It didn’t take long for the beavers to win his and others’ hearts. Daberdaku fed them apple pieces — on a long stick. “I saw what the teeth did to the trees; what could they do to my hand?”

At a November 2007 meeting at Alhambra High School, David Frey of Pleasant Hill, a maritme consultant, suggested Martinez city engineers build a diversion around the beaver dam so the beavers don’t have to be relocated. The “beaver deceiver” built the next year accomplished just that. Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff archives

Daberdaku didn’t support downtown property owners who initially wanted the beavers gone. Neither did most who spoke at a rowdy November 2007 City Council meeting at Alhambra High School, where everything from moving the beavers to embracing their tourism potential to renaming the high school sports teams from the Bulldogs to the Beavers was discussed. Many invoked the name of a famous environmentalist son: “What would John Muir do?” One woman said, “We don’t want to be known as a refinery town that kills beavers, right?”

Former Martinez mayor Harriett Burt said learning the science of the beavers changed her mind. “It raised awareness about the creek environment in general,” she said recently, “and it’s been a good thing.”

Good Harriet! And Bad Luigi! I remember the night we caught him feeding apples with a stick and told him to stop. I hoped that was the only time. But that’s what happens when an entire city raises beavers. Not everyone is a good parent. The reporter even talked to Skip, which I’m sure amused him.

800px-Skip_Lisle_Preparing_to_install_flow_device_on_Alhambra_CreekBut the beavers’ real stay of execution may have been the “beaver deceiver,” a water bypass pipe under a dam, installed by Vermonter Skip Lisle in 2008. Designed to fool beavers into thinking they’re successfully damming a waterway, the pipe “secretly” carries water under the dam to prevent flooding.

Lisle still marvels at his Martinez assignment. “I was building a beaver deceiver, and there were throngs of people there, media, and helicopters overhead. It was unique.”

Perryman and the Worth a Dam group have kept beavers in the public eye, even when they were absent from Alhambra Creek. Beavers’ images adorn downtown murals at one creek crossing, and on a “tile bridge” downstream with children’s depictions of the beavers. The Martinez Beaver Festival, an intimate gathering at its 2008 beginning, now draws hundreds to the small patch near the Amtrak station that some call “Beaver Park.” For two years, a group from Oakland led by a city environmental stewardship analyst took the train to Martinez for lessons on how beavers renew urban streams.

Worth a Dam has also inspired other beaver champions. Caitlin McCombs found that group’s work while looking for help saving beavers near her home in Mountain House, near Tracy. McCoCAITLINmbs then started the MH Beavers preservation group.

“I never knew before that beavers serve as a vital keystone, and that they promote an overall healthier environment,” said McCombs.

Caitlin! What a wonderful quote! We are so proud to have been part of your V.I.B.E. (Very Important Beaver Education). She won’t be joining us for earth day this year because she has a conference to attend for college, and we will miss her. But I feel that we helped her raise the awareness in Mountain House and she will think differently about beavers for her entire life. That makes me entirely happy.

By October 2015, the beavers were no longer deceived by the black pipe and built new dams downstream before leaving altogether soon after that. Some of the 24 Martinez kits had died, and others moved on. The original mother beaver, with a new younger mate, left, too.

But Perryman and others were overjoyed when, on March 5, a beaver was seen in the creek near downtown. It’s been seen at least twice since, and photographed at least once.

Does this mean they’re back? With three verified sightings, Perryman says yes.

Then again, were they ever really “gone?” While registering for a marathon recently, Councilman Ross said he was from Martinez. “The guy … said to me, ‘How are those beavers?’ Everywhere you go, the legacy of the beavers remains.”

Beaver legacy! That’s what we have. Of course., I’d rather have the actual beavers, but hey, it’s way more than most cities ever get.  Thank you Sam for another fine reminder the beavers promote a city’s good nature. And thank the beavers for being such great sports for a decade even though the city installed a wall of metal through their lodge. What a crazy, beautiful way to spend a decade of your life!

CaptureTime for some lovely donations to the silent auction. This week’s treasures come from Litographs in Cambridge Massachusetts. They are a remarkable business I happen to love because they turn favorite literature into wearable art. Literally. The entire text of a beloved book becomes a shirt, card, poster, tote or scarf. Catcher in the Rye, Scarlet Letter, Jane Eyre, Hamlet, The Princess Bride, classic or contemporary.

We founded Litographs because we had a vision of bringing our favorite literature off the page, onto your walls, and into your wardrobe. We believe in sharing the power of books with more people.

This is the entire text of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” which they generously gave beautifully matted and ready for framing.

moby dickLong ago I had a conversation with owner Danny Fein about possibly working with the now-public-domain text “In Beaver World” by Enos Mills. While he wasn’t sure this was a project they would tackle any time soon, he personally made this for our event. Look closely because that is the entire book. Thank you Danny and friends at Litographs! For this beautiful addition to our silent auction.


NOUB: (Not Our Urban Beavers)

Posted by heidi08 On March - 25 - 2017ADD COMMENTS

A lovely report from Napa has made the “Best of the Bohemian” writer’s picks for 2017 already, courtesy of our good friend Robin Ellison.

Most Adorable Department of Water ResourcesCapture

A great feat of endurance, strength and resolve to make tomorrow another day is going almost unnoticed in the midst of urban Napa, after torrential rains burst dams and washed away homes, leaving some of its most vulnerable residents homeless, shivering in the cold. Not so much human residents, bulodge with carst the beaver residents of Tulocay Creek. “It has been a wild winter at the beaver pond,” says Robin Ellison, a Napa wildlife watcher who’s kept a close watch on the beavers since they made a short stretch of this humble, urban creek channel their home several years ago. During the drought, the beavers set to work on a simple stick dam, creating habitat for birds and other wildlife, rebuilding after a storm in January 2016 flooded their home. Then, in 2017, winter turned on the beaver family like some White Witch, unleashing three damn-blowing storms in a row. “Tulocay Creek came within a foot of spilling its banks, and the magnificent beaver lodge was swept away,” Ellison reports. “The poor beavers were homeless and befuddled the following week, out in daylight trying hard to stay awake.” Ellison’s photo of a beaver that had worked so hard to build a new dam for its family that it fell asleep on the branch it was gnawing, would surely affect even the heart of someone who regards nature’s hydrologic engineers as mere pesky rodents. At last report, the rebuilt lodge has an impressive foyer entrance.—J.K.

Ahhh that’s sweet so to see celebrated! And beaver guardians never go out of style. Great job, Robin! I’m so old I remember when the Martinez Beaver Story was the pick of the year for unexpected wonders. Now they can’t even be bothered to publish the story they sent a reporter and a photographer out to capture! (I was told last weekend, then wednesday and now I have NO idea!)
Never mind, this is better anyway.

Time for another nice article about ENCOURAGING urban beavers and our new best friend, Kate Holleran!

Listening to the Land: Dam, Beavers! Dam!

<As humans have come to understand and value the critical role of wetlands in healthy ecosystems, beavers—the world’s greatest wetland engineers—are finally getting the respect they deserve. In the first of several beaver-appreciation events in Seaside, join scientist Kate Holleran at the Seaside Public Library on Wednesday, April 19, at 6 p.m. for an evening exploring how to encourage beavers to return to our communities—and how to live with the results. “Dam, Beaver! Dam!” is the fourth of five wildlife-themed Listening to the Land presentations in 2017. Admission is free.Even urban areas, where beavers were long considered pests, are now welcoming beavers as partners in habitat restoration efforts. Holleran, a senior natural resources scientist at Metro in the Portland area, has implemented several projects to improve the aquatic and forest habitat along Johnson Creek on the east side of the Metro district, on Chehalem Ridge on the west side, and on other nearby streams, much to the delight of beavers. She’ll talk about beaver restoration research and her own experience with beavers, exploring how her team has lured beavers back to streams and how adjacent landowners are coping with the effects of beaver activities on their property.

Kate is an ecologist for OregonMetro which coordinates the city parks and open spaces, because Portland. She is a big believer in beaver ecology and teaches groups to spot beaver for different watershed organizations. I’m thinking she should come to our next beaver festival and get inspired to start her own.

And by the way, isn’t it wonderful to see two stories that promote Urban Beavers that are not about US? Think about that for a moment, and consider if you will how many such stories graced the newspapers ten years ago. Got the answer? That would be NONE. We are the river from which all urban beavers flow. Literally in Napa because that might well be offspring, and figuratively in Portland, because our success story made them unashamed to discuss the topic aloud.

Honestly, no forefather could be prouder. Just look how far urban beavers have come.

Because why not Blame the Beaver?

Posted by heidi08 On March - 24 - 2017ADD COMMENTS

Oh those crazy beavers with their penchant for sinkholes and collapsed roads! When are they going to stop harassing us with their rodent ways and let us live peacefully. On ALLIGATOR lake.Capture

Beavers the culprit in 30A road collapse

“We’ve always had problems with beavers where we don’t have a bridge,” said Chance Powell, an engineer for Walton County

One of the great mysteries early Thursday morning was solved after it was determined that beavers were the most likely culprit for the sinkhole that has closed Walton County Road 30A near County Road 283.

Beavers? Beavers!

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office received a call just after 5 a.m. Thursday about a sinkhole on 30A at Alligator Lake.

According to County Commissioner Tony Anderson, who was present as county crews began to fill the extensive hole, a GMC pickup was crossing the section of road when the asphalt began to cave in. The vehicle made it across, but the pickup was damaged and the man driving it was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast with minor injuries, said Walton County Public Works Manager Wilmer Stafford.

“The water that flows under the road became too heavy on one side and caused it to fall in,” said Stafford, who also was at the scene later in the morning.

 The section of CR 30A surrounding the collapse site has been closed until the road can be repaired.

On the surface, the hole appears to be about 4 feet wide and takes up three-quarters of the road in front of Alligator Lake. But officials calculate that crew must deal with a much larger area of damage under the road.

But wait, how do the beavers make the sink hole exactly? Are you saying they tunneled under the asphalt to get away from the alligators, or chew holes in the road with their huge incisors, or that maybe the road was stuffed with willow and they ate it? The article is a little vague on the actual mechanics of destruction.  But I’m sure they’re telling the truth, right? People would never blame a rodent for something just to explain away a problem that their carelessness caused in the first place.

I guess it will stay a mystery, like how beavers live near ALLIGATOR lake in the first place.


Come to think of it, maybe they can sign up for the flow device WEBINAR coming soon from our friends at Furbearer Defenders and Cows and Fish. It will be taught by Adrien Nelson and Norine Ambrose and you are ALL invited. It’s a bargain at 5 dollars. Make sure to save your space now.

Learn how to successfully implement flow devices for beaver management in your community with our upcoming webinar, Beaver Flow Devices for Managers.

On April 6, 2017 at 3:30 pm EDT / 1:30 pm MDT / 12:30 pm PDT, Adrian Nelson of The Fur-Bearers, and Norine Ambrose from Cows and Fish will co-host this engaging webinar that will focus on the “whys” and “wheres” of implementing these devices. Managers and supervisors from a range of backgrounds will learn to better understand the applicability of these devices, as well as analyze sites requiring beaver management, and address which type of flow devices are most appropriate. 

Adrian will walk through the different types of devices, and how to make each one successful, as well as various obstacles and needs that may need to be addressed before deployment. The presentation will also touch briefly on ordering and supplies to ensure teams have the right materials for success.

Norine will tell participants of her first-hand experience in learning about and installing these devices in Alberta, and let participants know about the broader beaver collaborative work on education, social science, and management Cows and Fish is involved with the Miistakis Institute, local partners, and support from The Fur-Bearers.

Participants will come away with a better understanding of flow devices, but more importantly why they are useful to successfully co-exist with beavers. A question and answer period will follow.

I actually didn’t know these good folks knew each other, so I might watch just to learn more about their interaction. We will definitely learn things!

Spoiled for Beaver Choice

Posted by heidi08 On March - 23 - 2017Comments Off on Spoiled for Beaver Choice

Some days there is so little beaver news that I am left sorting through my ragged thoughts and trying to find something new to say about them. This week has been a beaver explosion, so I can barely keep up. First there is the smart new beaver page out offered by Esther Lev of the Wetlands Conservancy and some graduate students who accepted the beaver challenge. You will have fun browsing the projects. Use the link to visit the site which connects to each project. I’ll let them describe the ‘zine’ themselves.

During the 2017 Winter Term, eight graduate students from the Master of Urban and Regional Planning, Master of Fine Arts, and Master of Environmental Science and Management programs at Portland State University engaged in a study of beavers in the Pacific Northwest.  The question was whether better understanding the beaver could help us understand more about the culture, identity, and character of the Pacific Northwest, particularly for those of us engaged in planning and other activities with and for communities in the region.

The project had two components.  First, each student identified a topic associated with beavers, and developed a research paper that explored that topic.  All of those papers are posted here for your use and enjoyment.  During the term we read Frances Backhouse’s Once they were Hats, her very informative and engaging book about beavers in North America.  Thanks to Esther Lev, Wetlands Conservancy Executive Director, and Sara Vickerman Gage, we were able to spend a morning discussing the book with Frances Backhouse.  We gratefully acknowledge the importance of both Frances’ work and her presence in the class with us.  If you are interested in and/or care about beavers, do read her book!

Second, each student used their paper as the point of departure for creating pages for a class “zine” about beavers.  A zine is a short, self-published, and mostly hand-crafted magazine.  Usually combining words and images, the zine form attempts to both transmit information to and engage the imagination of the reader.  Preliminary research in Portland revealed hardly any zines about or featuring beavers.  We aimed to fill that void, at least in part.

3 screenTWC is who had me talk in Portland last year and is responsible for the art show “Beaver Tales” that is in its second venue. They are doing beaver-work wonders. I am thrilled that they’re on the scene and that all these students will remember beavers in their masters training.

A second exciting development came from our beaver friends in the Czech University of Life Sciences. They recently completed the English translation of their ‘living with beavers’ guidebook. There is a lot of great info on management and history, so I would take some good time to browse. There’s a great discussion of tree protection and flow devices, as well as some pretty creative solutions for preventing bank burrows. Enjoy!


“Mní wičhóni”

Posted by heidi08 On March - 22 - 2017Comments Off on “Mní wičhóni”

A very interesting thread appeared on my beaver news-feed yesterday. It began by talking about the native protests of the Dakota pipeline. Then ended by discussing the relationship between beavers and water and Native Americans.

Why is water sacred to Native Americans?

The Lakota phrase “Mní wičhóni,” or “Water is life,” has become a new national protest anthem.

It was chanted by 5,000 marchers at the Native Nations March in Washington, D.C. on March 10, and during hundreds of protests across the United States in the last year. “Mní wičhóni” became the anthem of the almost year-long struggle to stop the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River in North Dakota.

For Native Americans, water does not only sustain life – it is sacred.

Native American tribes on the Great Plains knew something else about the relationship between themselves, the beaver and water. They learned through observation that beavers helped create an ecological oasis within a dry and arid landscape.

As Canadian anthropologist R. Grace Morgan hypothesized in her dissertation “Beaver Ecology/Beaver Mythology,” the Blackfeet sanctified the beaver because they understood the natural science and ecology of beaver behavior.

Morgan believed that the Blackfeet did not harm the beaver because beavers built dams on creeks and rivers. Such dams could produce enough of a diversion to create a pond of fresh clean water that allowed an oasis of plant life to grow and wildlife to flourish.

Beaver ponds provided the Blackfeet with water for daily life. The ponds also attracted animals, which meant the Blackfeet did not have to travel long distances to hunt. The Blackfeet did not need to travel for plants used for medicine or food, as well.

Beaver ponds were a win-win for all concerned in “the Great American desert” that modern ecologists and conservationists are beginning to study only now.

For the Blackfeet, Lakota and other tribes of the Great Plains, water was “life.” They understood what it meant to live in a dry arid place, which they expressed through their religion and within their ecological knowledge.

R. Grace Morgan’s dissertation on beaver ecology and mythology? What? Why had I never heard of it? I went hunting immediately thinking that everyone else knew something I didn’t. I found the entire dissertation online at the University of Alberta library and just the abstract was enough to send thrills up my spine.

CaptureI sent it along to some beaver-minded folks just in case they hadn’t seen it either and Michael Pollock wrote immediately back, confirming that the oversight wasn’t mine alone.

“WOW! Heidi, what a total score. Just read the abstract, fascinating.”

1So I wasn’t the only one, and I settled in for a good read. I’m about half way through, but I have to keep stopping to make notes or tell someone else how cool it is.  I thought I’d share some highlights. Basically she postulates that for the plain tribes in the middle of Canada and North America, water was so scarce that they valued anything that protected it. They evolved a taboo system about killing beavers, so that no one wanted to eat beaver meet or wear beaver skins because it would ultimately threaten that water resource. They relied totally on the buffalo for survival for most of their needs. And the beaver was literally the “sacred cow they would never harm.

Because beavers save water, and water was life.

Then the Fur Trade came marching along and threatened that way of life. For centuries the Blackfoot Indians refused to help out hunting beaver, until the entire economy started revolving around beaver. Then their enemies who were willing to become beaver enemies started to get preferential status. The tribes they had quarreled in the past were suddenly armed with guns and ammunition because they agreed to help. Dr. Morgan was the first to pose that the sacredness of the beaver eroded under economic and hostile pressure. They reluctantly did what was needed and started to kill the thing that saved their water until all the beaver had gone the way of the buffalo and dinosaur before them.

abAnd do you think it might be important for a water vulnerable state like CALIFORNIA to know about this dissertation? Or remember why the things that save water are sacred? R. Grace Morgan returned to academic life after her children were grown and was in her fifties when the dissertation was completed in 1991, nearly a decade before Dr. Glynnis Hood showed up to study the same subject in the same area of Elk Island, Alberta. Glynnis said they never met, but she heard good things about her from colleagues. Dr. Morgan was an archeologist – not an ecologist. And some of the things her dissertation faithfully reports about beavers have since been debunked, like the fact that their dams never blow out. But she got so much right. I wish we had met.  She died at age 81 last February after a long struggle with oviarian cancer.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do.

If water is life