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

The Martinez Beavers

Category: Who’s saving beavers now?


I’m sure you’ve noticed, like I have, that people are compulsively titling their beaver talks or columns with catchy philosophical labels like “Beaver: Eco-savior OR rodent pest” “Beaver: Boon or Bastard?” “Beaver: Helps or Harasses?” I’m putting the world on notice to say RIGHT now that it needs to STOP.  Every single one of those titles and the millions more out there are misleading and false. They all contain a single word that is as untrue as anything you can read. And for this reason they should be stopped.

You know what wickedly misleading word, right I’m talking about, right?

Obviously a beaver is a nuisance AND a friend, a boon AND a bastard, a worry AND a wonder. They can be both, (and really can’t we all?) Even though our impulse is to reduce things to simple single quality and ignore all the other information, the only way we can TRULY understand beavers is to see that they are honestly both.  They make the habitat enormously better and screw up your culvert or your farm at the same time. Just as the mature man recognizes their is good and evil within every person, we have to deal head-on with the beaver’s duality and start from there. The difference of course is that, unlike man, with beavers it’s the very same action they take that is both burdensome and beneficial. I was reminded of this by this article yesterday from the Elk River Alliance in British Columbia.

Beavers: friend or foe?

Beavers are more than Canada’s national symbol and our first national currency trading their pelts. They are also wetland engineers. Just look upstream of the north-Fernie bridge, along the Elk River and you will see an incredible dam built this summer. Although cute industrious critters, are beavers actually friend or foe to Canadians?

While these busy rodents amaze many people, others are less impressed and more annoyed by their activity. Beavers fell trees and their dams can, in some instances, flood property that people might prefer to keep dry. So what good are they to us anyway?

The beaver is a semi-aquatic herbivore that cuts down trees to eat the branches and chew off the bark. They also use this material to build dams and lodges, modifying their environment like us, making them a very unique species. Beavers build dams in order to back up water creating a deep pool of water surrounding their home, especially the entrance. This is important, even during times of low water, as exposure poses a security threat to their den. If water levels are low and the entrance exposed, there is a greater risk of predation to the beaver family.

Rising water levels behind dams may be a nuisance to us but have you considered that this water also creates rich and vibrant wetlands, home to an array of different species, increasing the biodiversity and productivity of our watershed. For free, wetland plants filter out toxins and unwanted chemicals, as well as sediment before water flows back into the Elk River, improving water quality.

Beaver dams also increase water storage capacity in our watershed, both above and below ground. They store increased surface water and are capable of raising the ground water table, important in mitigating the effects of drought. Furthermore, beaver dams help reduce the speed and power of moving water, limiting its erosive capacity and allowing more storage, thus buffering flood damage.

These key functions benefit both the watershed and Canada’s largest rodent. This is why community members, local government, small businesses, and Elk River Alliance joined forces to mitigate the potential damaging affects of beavers in Fernie. Together they installed two large, pond-leveling devices to reduce negative effects of increased surface water: one in the West Fernie wetland and the second one at the McDougal Wetland north of Maiden Lake.

Thank goodness the article is better than the title, because it goes on to describe how the Elk River Alliance learned how to install two flow devices and taught these skills to some other players in Canada. Because the smart answer is that beavers are BOTH a friend and a foe,. Our job, if we want to get the ‘friend’ benefits, is to solve the ‘foe’ challenges correctly!

I received lots of notices about this article yesterday so I know it’s getting it’s attention. I also got a response from Nathaniel at Parks Canada who thanked me for the information I sent on a real beaver deceiver and said they were considering their options. Maybe this article even crossed his desk too? Let’s hope beavers keep moving in the right direction with fewer false dichotomies!

Must it all be either less or more,
Either plain or grand?
Is it always ‘or’?
Is it never ‘and’?

Stephen Sondheim


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.


Greenburn lake is in the Gulf Islands off the west coast of British Columbia. It’s actually located in that little missing chip in the utmost left hand corner of Washington State. It’s not all that far from Port Moody as the beaver swims, so I’m hoping many heroes help them with this particular problem.

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Aerial view of Greenburn Lake, South Pender Island, with North Pender Island and Vancouver Island in the background, South Pender Island

Gulf Islanders outraged over plan to euthanize beavers

A death sentence has been passed on the beavers living in a small lake in the Gulf Islands, but concerned citizens are hoping they can force a last minute pardon. The rodents have been busy building dams in South Pender Island’s Greenburn Lake. 

Parks Canada, which administers the area as part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, says the beavers’ work is threatening an earthen dam. Officials say they’ve exhausted all other options and have no choice but to humanely trap and euthanize the animals. But local residents are planning a blockade in an attempt to get the execution called off.

“We’re actually horrified by the fact that they would dream of killing wild animals when their mandate is to protect the wilderness and wild animals,” Leslie McBain told CBC News.

“It is ironic that their symbol, the National Parks symbol, is a beaver.”

‘A very difficult decision’

Nathan Cardinal, acting superintendent for the park, said he’s sympathetic to concerns from the public. “Having to take these steps is a very difficult decision for the agency and everyone involved,” he said.”We respect the right for people to protest, for sure, and we acknowledge that many people on the island care about the beavers. For us, euthanizing a problem animal is always the last resort.”

Between one and eight beavers have made their homes in the lake and, as they construct their own dams, more and more water is building up behind the man-made dam, threatening its structural integrity. Cardinal said that if the beavers are allowed to continue living in the lake, the dam will fail, causing water to spill onto people’s properties and into their homes.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

“At Parks Canada, it’s our mandate to ensure ecological integrity, but we always have to ensure that public safety comes first,” he said. Parks officials have been looking at potential solutions for about a year.

They’ve tried installing something called a “beaver deceiver” — a rectangular fence protecting a culvert that allows water to flow through — but the rodents responded by building dams in new places, causing more backup.

In what pretend universe is a beaver deceiver rectangular? How on earth would that possibly work? So let me understand this right, because you failed to use a tool correctly the beavers must die?

Parks officials have also looked into relocating the animals. But Cardinal said beavers are both territorial and increasingly abundant across B.C., so staff couldn’t find a suitable new home.

Now that it’s November, Parks Canada feels compelled to act. “We need to address it now before we get into the very wet season of the winter,” Cardinal said.

But McBain has a hard time believing there are no other options and would like to see the community consulted about what happens to the beavers.

“Humans are impacting the environment, it’s not beavers that are impacting the environment. We destroyed their habitat first, now we’re just going to destroy them,” she said.

First of all, NICE work Leslie. You already have that reporter eating out of your hand because look at the tone of the article! I’d say if you bring some children dressed in beaver tails and show them a photo of the ACTUAL trapezoidal beaver deceived you’re home free. Or at least on broadcast news. Then 200 more people will care about this issue and THEN you’ll be home free.

I have no idea what kind of rectangular fence they used to protect the culvert, but it sound like the beavers scoffed at their feeble attempts and kept right on making a safe pond for their family. Those stubborn beavers, willfully insisting on protecting their children and eating ALL winter long.

I will try and track down Leslie and Nathan today, and talk to them  about real options.


 

On a related note, this was a nice discussion of urban wildlife recently on KQED. I’m sure it was just an oversight on Colleen’s part that she forgot to mention beavers.


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

Say, senior researchers at NOAA Fisheries, for example.

Pollock dethrones longtime incumbent in parks board race

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

pollock

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

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

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


I received an update yesterday from the hardy Judy Taylor-Atkinson of Port Moody Vancouver who is working to save the beavers at the development where she lives. She is doing a wonderful job focusing public attention on the beavers and getting the community interested in them.  In fact she’s doing SUCH a fine job that I’m pretty sure at this point our beavers are jealous.

Yesterday she wrote this:

We had our first mini crisis last week when the beavers knocked down a large unwrapped black cottonwood tree and it landed on a homeowners fence, just damaging it slightly.   I was immediately notified by people in our neighbourhood who love the beavers and I went to work posting messages on our community facebook page and notifying the city arborist, Steve,  (who actually likes the beavers) and requesting the trees in that area be wrapped.  Steve sent his two staff, Alex and Doug, who have been trained by Adrian Nelson on the proper way to wrap trees, the next day.  

My facebook post read –

“Jim just came back and Silverlining landscape have removed the top of the aspen tree and Jim advised them to leave the branches and cuttings close to the stream bank for the beavers.  We will meet with the city arborist today and wrap that stand of trees.  The beavers have been eating mostly willow, dogwood, poplar and shrubs.  Some trees will be wrapped and others will be left as food sources because there is a natural balance between beavers and trees. Beavers open up the tree canopy to let light in and smaller trees will grow.  Some species of trees, like willow, have evolved with beavers and they actually grow faster if a beaver chops them down.  The greenbelt is changing from a “stream” ecosystem to a “pond” ecosystem.” 

That post seemed to settle everyone down (Jim is my husband).  The next day, I posted a picture of Doug and Alex wrapping the trees with the post –

“Thank you to Doug and Alex for wrapping the cottonwoods this morning and to Steve (our city arborist) for his valuable knowledge about our trees along Pigeon Creek. Steve said they are busy right now removing downed trees throughout the city (due to a bad combination of drought followed by intense rain and now a cold snap).”

Thankfully, Steve, the city arborist seems to be quite supportive (and interested) in the beavers.  When the beavers first turned up a year ago Steve didn’t know anything about them and now you should hear him!   He knows what kind of trees they prefer (and why), which trees offer the most nutrition for beavers (cottonwoods, poplars) and he’s not concerned about the willows at all.   He just has to make sure the trees don’t fall on a building and now he has a plan to wrap  those trees.  He has also been along the stream and is quite sure that the trees the beavers could potentially knock down will not fall away from the stream. 

Isn’t that wonderful? She is committed to making beaver friends wherever she goes, and NOW those lucky beavers even have an arborist who  is learning to love them!  (Does Martinez even have an arborist? Or know the word?) I asked for her permission to share this because I think it is inspiring to others who are thinking of doing something similar. She and her husband are hard at work in the community encouraging, explaining and de-mystifying beaver behavior. I wish very much I could resist this little rhyme that has crept into my mind,  because she deserves so much better, but there’s no avoiding it now.

Thank heavens for Judy
On duty
In Port Moody


There’s excellent beaver management news this morning from Idaho where the watershed guardians just installed a pond leveler for veterans day. Given the hard time that many beavers face in the Gem state, these critters are lucky indeed! Great work Mike Settell and team Pocatello!

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“Thank you, Bruce, for serving on the Watershed Guardians board, providing inspiration, leadership and flatout hard work. We will honor your volunteerism by carrying on our work to help the Portneuf River Watershed, one beaver at a time!”