Archive for the ‘Who’s Killing Beavers Now?’ Category


Posted by heidi08 On October - 14 - 2016Comments Off on Confluence

I knew Joseph R. Walker was a mountain man who happened to be buried in Martinez. I wrote about him years ago when we were working on the historic prevalence papers.  I believe I referred to this picture as a “Dreamy Mona Lisa with a beard.” Ha!  But I never realized before how very important he was to the eventual settlement of California. It’s not a stretch to say we might not even be here if it wasn’t for him.

He was the first white man to cross the Humbolt Sink in Nevada. The first to find a pass over the Sierras. The first white man to stand in Yosemite. And although he is fairly forgotten by history, he was considered the greatest of fur trappers in his day.


He was a big man, 6 feet 2 and 220 lbs – but a thoughtful, unboastful, determined man who was said to never drink more than a toast. He was fair and cautious in his treatment of natives, but brutal if he felt they wronged him. While he never earned the fame of Bonneville (Who got Washington Irving to write his memoirs) or Fremont (who is famed for naming Tahoe) he was regarded as a remarkable leader of men and encouraged the most loyal regard by those who served him. The saying was that he only lost a single man in all his travels and that man had been attacked by a grizzly bear, not an indian.

Given our current political fray I found this quote about Fremont, attributed to Walker, amusing.

“Frémont, morally and physically, was the most complete coward I ever knew. I would call him a woman, if it were not casting an unmerited reproach on the sex.”

Yikes! That’s kind of respectable and catty at the same time. (Kind of like those leaked emails of Colin Powell.) Fremont was a complicated character in his own right, with his notable achievements including taking over as Governor of California, getting court marshaled for insubordination, being one of the new states first senators, and eventually running for president on an antislavery platform for the GOP.

Different story. Different day.

Back to our hero, I guess compared to Walker lots of men were short on courage. He was just 34 when Bonneville retained him to do a reconnaissance mission in ‘Alta California’ – which is what the Mexicans who were in charge of it called the territory. Since they were asking him to spy on another country Bonneville got him a Mexican passport before sending him out the door. Walker’s disguise was a fur trapper so he hired 60 grizzled others to look the part. They traveled down the Green River in Utah to the Humbolt in Nevada to the edge of the Sierras. They had been assured they would find the “Bonaventura” which was supposed to flow from Utah to the Pacific. Guess how true that turned out to be? Unfortunately it was already November by the time they started their ascent of the Sierras and conditions quickly went from bad to miserable.

Here’s  how a nice article in the Half Moon Bay Review recently described it

Growing short of food for themselves and feed for their animals, they moved ahead. What followed as they made their assault on the mountains is a truly California story. Their animals began to starve. The air was thin. Their wool and fur-lined clothing was little match for the snow and freezing wet cold. Most of all, the unknown way forward became a brew of uncertainty and fear, even for these seasoned men.

Walker needed to use both reason and inspiration. As they neared the highest ridges in mid-November they were also approaching the very edge of their ability to survive. They began eating their horses. There was talk of mutiny and retreat. They began to wonder whether they were more likely to survive by going forward or by retracing their steps in retreat. 

The part about eating their horses stuck in my craw the first time I read this. I guess because they theoretically were there to hunt beavers which they were just tossing away after they skinned them. Apparently during dire times mountain men were known to eat horses, mules, dogs, and their native guides – not to mention sucking what little nutrients they could glean from their beaver skins, leather fringes or moccasins.  Apparently they were on the original Paleo diet, gorging on barely cooked meat and fat when it was available and not eating much of anything else.

Suffice it to say our noble captain lead his men through an eventual pass and they left the snow to camp under the really big trees of Yosemite. He eventually discovered “Walker Pass” and opened all California for discovery. After Joseph and his friends had trapped out beaver they rented themselves as guides to the pioneers heading west.

He lived to the remarkable age of 80 and eventually went to live with his nephew on a ranch on Mount Diablo.

And so it came to pass that the most famed beaver trapper of his day was buried in the town of the most famous beavers in the nation which happened to be the home town of the most famous conservationist ever and where he was visited by the author of the most famous beaver book ever.

Because … castor coincidence.

  • Belated note. RIP to early Martinez Beaver supporter Paul L. Wilson who died peacefully and with family yesterday. Paul was the city watchdog and always ready to make sure they did the right thing. You will be missed.




Stirling had a beaver dam

Posted by heidi08 On July - 7 - 20162 COMMENTS

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.

Mary had a little lamb. It was probably the first song you played on the plastic recorder in third grade. Did you know the original poem was written by the author and editor Sarah Jopsepha Hale about the real child Mary Sawyer who lived in Stirling Massachusetts?  Supposedly the little girl really did bring her lamb to school one day and it really did make the children laugh and play (which of course children would never do normally). Later Sarah also published one of the first novels against slavery, and was famous for writing that while slavery dehumanizes the enslaved, it also dehumanizes their masters and retards national progress. Good point!

Flash forward 180 years and apparently they can tolerate lambs in educational facilities in Stirling, just not beavers in creeks.

Selectmen say beavers must go

 “The intent was to sell the property once we put the easements in place,” said Town Administrator Michael Szlosek. “But the center easement was too intrusive. The desire was to get the Conservation Commission to move that center easement.”

But even with a less intrusive easement, there is still the matter of the beavers.

The selectmen agreed that, although there has not yet been any committed interest from a prospective buyer, the flooding caused by the beaver dam decreases the value of the property and that the dam must be broken and the land dried up before the parcel can be sold.

“You can’t trap and relocate beavers because they are a nuisance animal,” said Szlosek. “There is no place to put them. Nobody wants to kill the animals [but] the beaver population in Massachusetts has exploded over the last 10 or 15 years. What else can you do? They’ll continue to breed and they’ll flood more land.”

Because of the restrictions on lethal trapping, the animal control department is not able to preside over this matter. The town of Sterling will need to seek out a private company that can provide the trapping service.

“There was a referendum banning almost all trapping in Massachusetts so you really have to go through a lot of hoops to be able to do it,” said Szlosek. “Obviously, we will have to observe that.”

According to Szlosek, the season during which permits can be granted to trap beavers is between Nov. 1 and April 15. During the off season, appeals can be made to the Board of Health and a permit can be issued if the presence of the beaver dam demonstrates an impingement on personal or environmental safety.

“They’re relatively harmless creatures except that they can cause a lot of damage to properties,” said Szlosek. “They’re indirectly destructive to other species because they destroy their habitats.”

Destructive to other species because they destroy their habitats. Just pause a moment and let that sink to its full outrageous effect. Beavers destroy habitat. I obviously have been lying to you all these years and misleading the children at the beaver festival. We really should be doing an Demolition Beaver bracelet activity and teaching how they ruin things for fish and wildlife.

Mr. Szlosek gets a letter. And maybe a poem.

Stirling had a beaver dam
The babbling brook was stilled
Szoslek wants the dam removed
And all the beavers killed

The fish will have to go away
the muskrat, otter, mink
And all the birds that hunted there
go missing with the link.



‘Inane justice’

Posted by heidi08 On June - 22 - 2016Comments Off on ‘Inane justice’

“It’s a beaver. Or it might be an otter. I can’t quite tell,” Boone says.

Is there a more fitting quote to capture the scrupulous care involved in beaver trapping? I sure never saw one. Here’s some more beaver ignorance from Illinois, which has never seen a furbearer it couldn’t shoot.

At war with the beavers

LODA — Wearing rubber boots and armed with a hand-held cultivator tool, Jon Boone ventures out into a heavily forested area just south of the township road that the locals call the Loda Slab. The 63-year-old, tall, gray-bearded man leads the way through 6-foot-high prairie grass, using his tool to create a path for a trailing reporter.

“When you come out here, this is not a hike through a park,” Boone warns. “This is what Illinois looks like at its best.”

“There he is!” Boone says, pointing to an animal that had just popped its head out of the 4-foot-deep water in front of him, part of the meandering Spring Creek.

“It’s a beaver. Or it might be an otter. I can’t quite tell,” Boone says.

He makes regular visits to the spot in Spring Creek just west of Loda where the large dam is located. He usually visits first during the daytime, using hand tools like cultivators, rakes or picks to break up a few spots in the dam to create a flow of rushing water. As long as his nuisance permit is valid, he then returns to the scene that night, armed with a shotgun, ready to shoot any beavers he sees.

“The sound of the rushing water makes them want to fix the dam,” Boone says. “Sometimes, I’ve been out here for hours and never seen a thing. Those are the boring nights. The last time I was out here, the only thing I saw was a shooting star, and I sat here for an hour or two.”

In the past three months, Boone shot two beavers, and three more were trapped. But the beavers — which could number more than 10, he says — remain, and so does the big dam, along with another smaller dam just downstream.

Beavers, otters, toddlers…  who really can tell the difference? What I see – I shoot and just to be on the careful side I only shoot if its in the water or on the dam. (Or within striking distance.) I’m a responsible man you know.  A trustee. They write articles about me.

Boone says he recently tried to buy some dynamite to blow up the beaver dams, but an area store refused to sell it to him. He said there is a person in the area who is licensed to use dynamite, and it remains a possibility that the village could use that person’s services, but Boone says “we probably will never do that.”

Who knew that dynamite regulations were stronger than those for assault rifles? We’ll ,he’s at least getting solid advice from the very top;

“The conservation guy (at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources) goes, ‘You know, as much as they’ve spent paying you to come out here and do this, you should hire a professional trapper,'” Boone recalls. “I said, ‘Well, first of all, they’re not paying me anything, because I’m a trustee.'”

Aww you men you kill furbearers for nothing in your spare time? That’s mighty white of you, really. Loved this quote

“I have an inane  [sic] sense of direction,” says Boone, whose great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was the brother of Daniel Boone, an American pioneer, explorer, woodsman and frontiersman. “I never get lost.

“I get confused a lot, but I always find my way back.”

Is this reporter really really stupid or really really smart? “INANE” means silly or stupid. The noble trustee was really trying to say “INNATE” to convey that his unique ancestral heritage gave him this ability. Now did the man get it wrong and Will the reporter didn’t know the difference so just wrote it down? Or did Will just mistype or auto-correct his way into trouble? Or (and this makes me the happiest to think of) did Will hear the mistake, and just think that it was a fitting description for this old loon and leave it in?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Yesterday we finished the 150th and last pendant necklace. They are all lovingly tucked into individual bags and arranged by ‘letter’ to be ready for the beaver festival. Jon wanted to know how all this kind of thing got done when we were both working?

finished pendntsabout tiles corrected

I made the Gessner otter for our friends at ROEP and mildly asked when the ‘otter festival’ is coming? They said they might plan something for their 5th year, and Cindy Margulis on facebook suggested that they could get the Oakland Zoo TO HOST IT for them.

That seems fair. Martinez can slog away while they descend to earth on a fluffy cloud. Because otters live a charmed life. It’s true.

Konrad Gesner Woodcutting: 1558

Konrad Gesner Woodcutting: 1558

Inching Towards Reasonable

Posted by heidi08 On June - 11 - 2016Comments Off on Inching Towards Reasonable

I guess before things get better anywhere they start by getting very slightly less bad. Nova Scotia isn’t famous for their progressive views on beaver, or their deep understanding of flow devices, but at least one property owner didn’t want them trapped – and that’s something.

Beaver killing over home flooding prompts complaint

Neighbours in a small Annapolis Valley community are at odds over the provincial government killing a beaver.

The beaver had built a dam that, for six weeks, caused one homeowner’s well water to be undrinkable, and blocked the drain pipe, making it impossible to use water without flooding the basement.

“It’s nice to see the wildlife, but they’ve really hindered my lifestyle by interfering with my water supply, my septic drainage and my sink drainage,” Brenda Potter said Thursday.

Her neighbour Karen Enright says she owns the land surrounding a brook, in which a beaver had built a dam. Enright says she explicitly forbid the Department of Natural Resources to set foot on her land.

A man with permits from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources set traps earlier this week to kill the beaver — and it worked.

“We were so angry, on many different levels, mostly that we had given explicit instructions that they did not have our consent to cross our property,” Enright told CBC’s Maritime Noon.

“They did not have our consent to set kill traps — and they did it anyway.”

Tuesday morning, her husband found the beaver dead in a trap in their marsh, she said. Enright said she’s been disappointed by the government’s responses to her complaints — despite being clear with her wishes.

“We understand there was an issue with the beaver building a dam. It was causing some property damage to the road and whatnot, but we asked for other solutions,” Enright said.

According to a staffer at the local DNR office, the couple could pay to relocate the animal live, she said, but he indicated it could be difficult due to a surplus of beavers. Enright said he could not provide a report showing the over population.

“Live trapping is a difficult, time-consuming and costly process,” a department website on beaver control says. “Due to high beaver populations and limited free habitat into which trapped animals may be released, it is seldom justified in Nova Scotia.”

The site also suggests culvert guards, protectors and cleaners, and pipes and electric fences to control water levels against beaver dam damage.

Well, I’m going to describe this as an “at least” article.

At least there was single woman in a particularly grim region of a 100,000 that didn’t want beavers killed. And ‘at least‘ the Ministry of “earth things we can exploit” mentioned flow devices  when she asked for solutions. I’m sure the information they sent her wasn’t cutting edge by any means, and I’m sure it made them sound highly unlikely to succeed, but at least, (and I’m using ‘least’ in the literal sense here), that’s something. Maybe someday soon there will be a handful of people who don’t want beavers killed, and maybe Nova Scotia will install an actual flow Device that works. And maybe people will notice that beaver dams actually make things better.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Meeting tomorrow for Beaver Festival IX. And we’re starting to get most of our ducks in the stadium, if not yet  ‘in a row’. We have made about 5 each of every tile and had this sign made so folks could choose which one they wanted. I think along with the kids tshirts and the silent auction we should be able to generate some funds for the mural, don’t you? Click twice on the descriptions to enlarge.

about tiles corrected

I actually love them all so much I think I want to make a quilt.

every tile


East side West side, all around the town

Posted by heidi08 On June - 4 - 2016Comments Off on East side West side, all around the town

It’s election season, and amidst all the dramatic vote-wooing, winning and stealing, one contest stands out as a true gripping question for the American people.

Mendon residents to vote on beaver trapping, killing

MENDON – Residents at Special Town Meeting this month will vote on whether to approve trapping and votekilling of beavers on Lake Nipmuc to reduce high water levels.

The proposed article would allocate $1,500 from land bank money to pay a licensed professional to trap beavers which are building a dam which is causing Lake Nipmuc to rise and flood the yards of waterfront homes.

“A beaver dam seems to be the culprit,” said Land Use Committee Chairwoman Anne Mazar.Parks and Recreation Director Dan Byer said that rising water may also be eroding the town beach.

Mazar said she does not know if residents are widely aware of the problem and does not know if the Town Meeting article will have any opposition.

“That’s one reason it’s good that it’s going to Town Meeting so people can talk about it,” she said.

The article goes on to say they ruled out the use of a flow device because it requires an ‘an elevation drop to work’. Does that make some kind of sense that I’m not getting? For the life of me I can’t imagine why any beaver in the world would build a dam WITHOUT an elevation drop? I mean if its not holding back more water than there is on the other side what’s the point? Anyway, I wrote Ms. Mazar today and contacted Mike Callahan, who’s a whopping 70 miles away, and we’ll see what happens. I’m hopeful she’s interested in alternatives because the article quotes her as saying,

“Mazar said she wishes another option existed because beavers are “really important in the environment.”

Mean while PRI covered the story of the newly famous urban beavers at the Olympic village in Vancouver. It’s a nice report and you should listen it. The article has some of the best ‘urban beaver’ photos around. I give it 9.9 from the German judge.

Vancouver’s former Olympic Village is now home to urban beavers

lodge and apartments

Beaver wanderings

Posted by heidi08 On March - 25 - 2016Comments Off on Beaver wanderings

Yesterday was the Pinole Rotary event. They gave us a tasty lunch at Pear Street Bistro while I talked Martinez beavers to them and tried to prepare them for the inevitable beaver visit coming their way. They were very positive and receptive, so I’m hopeful that solutions will cross their minds when beavers tentatively set their paws in Pinole Creek. One cheerful listener even sang the beaver fight song from his alma mater.

pinoleThen I came home and found out that Queequeg wears a beaver hat!

Allow me to explain. My youthful self did lots of reading things like Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky, but I never got around to reading more American classics like that famous impossible quest tale of Moby Dick.  Probably because whaling was ‘icky’ or some other such reason.

Just by chance on facebook the other day I noticed that they had just finished the complete audio of Melvil’s seminal work, with every chapter read in its entirety by people like Stephen Fry and Tilda Swinton, so I thought, that would be a fun way to fill the gap, and tried it out.

I’m up to chapter for when the narrator unwillingly finds himself sharing a bed at the Spouter Inn with a terrifying painted ‘savage’ who turns out to be not so scary. This is Queequeg, a Mowry kind of tattoed harpoonist who has earned enough at sea to have a few prized civilized possessions. Chief among them is his BEAVER HAT which in the morning he puts on first, long before his actual pants, to show he is fully committed to American life.

Now Moby Dick was written in 1851, when the fur trade had begun to tank. The beaver hat was out of fashion in Europe, and the silk hat was becoming all the rage. Perfect timing because they had killed all the beavers everywhere in Europe centuries ago, and now even Canada and America (including California, the last hold out). Silk ascended, or was adopted, just in time. The same way in which you pretend you like something better when you know you’re never getting the original back. Queequeg proudly wears his top hat in the same way that we might proudly display a rotary phone or one of those a deep square TV sets. Progress has moved on. Even when he catches on he’s already behind.
CaptureIn case you want to enjoy your own rediscovery, the chapters are here:


Beaver trapping wins Oscar

Posted by heidi08 On February - 29 - 2016Comments Off on Beaver trapping wins Oscar

Last night, Leonardo accepted an academy award to a standing ovation for his apparently unforgettable role as Hugh Glass, a member of the Andrew Henry fur brigade filling the coffers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. When they weren’t busy abandoning one of their crew to a grizzly bear, the brigade trapped all the beavers on the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. They even worked with the unfortunately named “Beaver Dick” out of Idaho. When they were no beaver left to trap, the enterprising Mr. Henry went into lead mining and bullet manufacture.

Because honestly, after you killed all the members of one species, why not try to eliminate the other?

When I try to imagine the ruthless arms race of the beaver industry, I am shocked until I remember the similar mad pursuit of gold in California, or coal in West Virginia, or oil and titanium everywhere. The American way is to use up all you can of a resource with no thought for your children or grandchildren.  The only warning is to do it FAST before your fellow man gets it instead of you. The “explorers” of early America were basically children on a grand Easter egg hunt. I don’t believe that most had any grand curiosity or wish to map the west. The only reason they looked over that vale or up that river was because the ones closer to them were all trapped out.

I’m not sure anyone really believed it was possible to eliminate the beaver, even though their ancestors had already done it in Europe and England.  Obviously, the idea that you could wipe out an entire species never mattered to the fur trade – and never mattered to America in general. It’s not like we were taught as children to find the Easter eggs as quickly as possible but not to make sure and leave two behind so they could grow up and foster the race of eggs for next year.

We were taught to get all the eggs, because there will always be more eggs, more trees, more water, more natural gas, more beavers. It’s the American Way. And when the last Grizzly was killed in California and the last Passenger pigeon was shot out of the sky no one really believed it was the last. Until ample time passed and people realized they could see no more. And by then – so much time had passed – that  no one really believed they had ever existed in the first place.

It’s the American Way.