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

The Martinez Beavers

Category: Beavers


I spent yesterday moving the digital furniture and making the drop down menus look the way I wanted them to. Please humor me by going to look at them and telling me what needs fixing. Rusty of Napa wrote  a couple suggestions about including photos so that they could be clicked on to make them bigger – and suggested adding some social sharing buttons.  Of course they were working but just no stopped, but the picture thing works right?

Meanwhile Scott says he’ll get rid of the lime green next week, and Bruce updated the domain name for another year, so brace yourself: you’ll be stuck with me that long at least!

In honor of this auspicious occasion, Upstate New York was kind enough to publish this very amusing article. It starts out pleasantly enough but has one of the very best beaver mistakes I’ve read in recent years. Enjoy!

Sandra Scott Travels: Witness The Prowess Of Beaver Engineering

Last week I asked: Where can you see a beaver dam in the making? Near the Amboy 4-H Environmental Education Center.

John and I decided it was a great time to check out a beaver dam we had heard about. Beaver dams are an amazing feat of engineering. We didn’t see any beavers, but I think it was because there was a family with young children just leaving the area. Walk quietly if you go and you may be luckily enough to see the beavers.

They carry the mud to build the dam on their tummy.

Ahhh there it is! Imagine if you will, the series of misunderstandings necessary to convince oneself that beavers carry mud on their tummies! If this was a west coast article I’d be inclined to say they had seen sea otters breaking shells on a rock on their tummies, but that surely never happened in New York?

Nope, there’s simply no accounting for this. And since the author never actually saw a beaver we can assume that this “fact” was given to her by the naturalist, or seen in a display. I might have to right them and ask about it, but for now I’m just going to amuse myself with the notion of a round bodied beaver floating on his back carrying mud on his tummy towards the  dam. Maybe paddling with his tail?

Heh heh.

Speaking of unbelievable things, 25 years ago today my dissertation committee officially gathered  in a small windowless room for the last time to approve my research, making me an official Ph.D. Unlike the oral defense, this was a peaceful,  mostly bloodless gathering, and no scalps were taken. The head of the committee was a brilliant, awkward man who bobbed when he spoke like we were all at sea. The technical wizard who helped with data analysis was busily recalculating my figures on his watch (beep beep) while we spoke, and the other member had just given birth and was breast feeding quietly. In between their comments and questions, tiny sounds of pleasure would come from the infant and brighten the room. “Ah!” 

And then, after 9 years of college it was finally finished, and I had a doctorate. Who knew I be using what’s left of that education to save beavers?


There was trouble in website paradise yesterday so I flailed about asking for help. It turned out that Scott Artis, the designer of our site, was willing to step in and do a rescue and remodel, which he’s already begun.

If you’ve ever lived in house that was undergoing any kind of remodel, you’ll instantly understand the clutter and disarray that comes with these changes. But I’m assured that it will be MUCH, MUCH BETTER once it’s done. I am comforted by the fact, that a beaver’s life is FULL of repairs, and the process troubles them not at all. We will think of their patience and let it encourage us to do the same. Give us a couple days and make sure you come back to see how things are going.

You know not posting will cause me to have a coronary event or commit a crime of some kind, so maybe they’ll be an interesting news cycle coming soon. It will all be worth it, right?


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!”


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

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

The Secret Sex Lives of Beavers

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

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

Peter Busher poses with beaver captured for analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

This is my FAVORITE part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nobody told me there’d be days like this in beaverland. Wow. The past two days have been exploding with good beaver news but this takes the veritable cake. Guess who the center for biological diversity is suing now? And for WHAT?

Capture

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Salmon Harmed by Government Beaver-killing in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore.— Two environmental organizations today filed a formal notice of intent to sue a federal program that kills hundreds of beavers a year in Oregon. The lawsuit aims to hold the program, Wildlife Services, accountable for killing beavers because the animals are essential to protecting threatened and endangered fish like salmon and steelhead.

Wildlife Services, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kills the beavers with traps, snares and firearms. Beavers are Oregon’s official state animal.

Numerous studies show that beavers benefit endangered salmon and steelhead by creating ponds that provide fish with natural cover and food. Despite these well-established ecological benefits, Wildlife Services killed more than 400 beavers in Oregon in 2016. The extermination agency even killed beavers in counties where endangered aquatic wildlife rely on beaver ponds for survival.

“Killing beavers in Oregon just one year after federal fish experts announced that beavers are essential to providing high-quality habitat for salmon is just perverse,” said Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates. “If this state is committed to saving salmon, we have to be equally committed to preserving the remaining fraction of beavers that historically lived in Oregon.”

NO FOOLIN’. I heard nothing of this in the pipes and everyone I’ve talked to is slapping their foreheads. That we weren’t warned isn’t a huge surprise because CBD tends to forage on their own and act like the only team on the field. For this particular lawsuit they’ve teamed up with the Northwest Environmental Advocates. Their letter of intent clearly lays out the legal basis for the suit, explaining that when an animal is listed on the Endangered Species Act as salmon and steelhead are, and ANY federal agency is going to do something that affects their habitat they are required to mitigate the action and warn those involved. And since there are decades of evidence that trapping beavers threatens salmonids they have failed in this responsibility for years and years. Read for yourself.

When a species has been listed or critical habitat designated under the ESA, all federal agencies—including APHIS-Wildlife Services—must ensure in consultation with the Services that their programs and activities are in compliance with the ESA. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2). Specifically, section 7(a)(2) of the ESA mandates that all federal agencies “insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency . . . is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of [critical] habitat of such species.”
Now that seems pretty clear cut, doesn’t it? I’m sure that WS has lots of ways to justify their actions but I can imagine some smart judge ruling that the evidence shows that removing beaver is a threat to salmon and they’re required to engage in mitigation when they do so. Like build BDAs or pay a fine. Can’t you?
The entire document is well prepared with a few jarring exceptions. It has the requisite shocking photos of dead beavers in traps or piled on trucks (which won’t do much in court), and isn’t careful about language enough for my tastes. (That paragraph alone spells “ensure” two ways without explanation) but its a HUGE shot across the bow, and every one from Michael Pollock to Ann Riley to Michael Callahan wrote me VERY interested in this yesterday. The reference section is thorough, indeed.
Here is their list of endangered species that beaver removal affects.
  1. Salmon, Chinook Snake River spring/summer-run ESUOncorhynchus Salmotshawytscha
  2. Salmon, Chinook Upper Willamette River ESU Oncorhynchus Salmotshawytscha
  3. Steelhead Upper Willamette River DPS Oncorhynchus Salmomykiss
  4. Salmon, coho Oregon Coast ESU Oncorhynchus Salmo kisutch
  5. Steelhead Middle Columbia River DPS Oncorhynchus Salmomykiss
  6. Sucker, Warner Catostomus warnerensis
  7. Trout, bull Salvelinus confluentus
  8. Trout, Lahontan cutthroat Oncorhynchus clarkii henshawi
  9. Frog, Oregon spotted Rana pretiosa

I can see California and Washington watching eagerly to see how this plays out, and follow suit down the line. I know APHIS is the favorite target for CBD, but in our state CDFG allows the killing of far more beavers than are taken by APHIS alone. Is there any way that this suit could affect the number of depredation permits issued to private landowners or cities because of threat to salmon? Or Red legged frogs? Or migratory birds? Or WATER?

You can see the list grow.

And if that isn’t exciting enough for you, how about beaver benefits on Utah Public Radio? Robert Edgel is working with the Wetlands Initiative to install BDAs until the real things comes along.

Beavers are what biologists call an “ecosystem engineer.” That means that they change the environment they live in, and help maintain critical habitat for other species. Beaver dams raise the water level of a stream which causes the stream to flood during spring runoff. The flooding allows grasses and forbs to grow and the much needed insect population to thrive.
Oh and I saw this yesterday on FB and wanted to share. Suzi Eszterhas, the wildlife photographer that filmed our beavers a few years back and is a friend of the festival, is currently in Africa, facing brand new hazards on her current assignment. This time it’s a opportunistic meerkat who has decided to use her as a lookout.
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