Did you ever have an arch enemy? I mean someone who thwarts your every move, foils your every plan, and seems to lurk just over your shoulder where you can never, never see them? AE’s are respected and listened to by all the wrong people and whatever work you do to dismiss what they say it’s too late because they’ve already gone on to speak to the next group that you’re going to have to try and re-educate.
The Martinez Beavers have had lots of enemies, city council, public works, hired environmental consulting firms, a few reporters, handsomely paid attorneys and various property owners. But we only ever had one AE. And if you don’t know who that was by now I’m not doing my job. Here she is talking at the April 2008 council meeting. And here I am over her shoulder looking inceredulous. I believe among her many erroneous points were;
- that our beavers were leaving (or had already left),
- that every flow device she had ever seen installed had failed,
- and that trees can be protected with blackberry bushes because beaver never eat them as they dislike the thorns.
Originally Mary Tappel offered her services when our city was responding to beaver problems and she was supposed to present formally to the beaver subcommittee. We all got copies of her resume in preparation. But I happened by chance to recognize her name from an article about the Elk Grove beaver fiasco in the Sacramento Bee, which my folks used to get delivered to their home in the foothills. I remember being jarred by her comment in the article at the time that the beavers had to be killed because being sterilized was stressful. I thought, ‘isn’t being killed stressful?’ Then heard later that she was coming to Martinez to offer l her skills.
At the time she told the reporter for the Gazette that beavers “breed for 50 years”. I remember because when I read the article I wrote him and asked whether it was a typo. The editor said ‘no’ and called her to check that he got the quote correctly. And just like that my AE announced that she would not present to the subcommittee, because we were too inflamed and hostile, and she would just meet behind the scenes with city staff.
This meant that she could whisper her poisons unchallenged into their willing ears. Telling staff once that the father beaver should be killed so that the mother would have to mate with her sons when they grew up and slow population growth in that way. No. really.
God only knows what else she said.
The mayor liked her council so much that he invited her secretly to the April 2008 meeting where the subcommittee results were going to be presented. I remember how surprised we were to see her in the hallway outside. To this day I wonder what funds changed hands to get her there. That same night I had suddenly found out I was going to be the one to present our results. No warning, just like that go ahead and talk to 200 people. And then Mary would go after me and dispute everything I said.
It turned out to be okay though, because she was not very convincing with her waving cardboard sign. My luck. And she went away and we got what we wanted, so that seemed like a victory.
Imagine how excited I was when Jack Sanchez of S.A.R.S.A.S heard my talk in Santa Barbra and invited me to come follow her presentation on beavers in Auburn. The shoe was finally on the other foot! I was so happy. I pulled together the latest fish data and they said the talk was the best attended and the best delivered they ever had. I was on cloud 9 when it was over. Especially because of the intelligent comments of one listener from FWS who knew everything about the fish issue and could soothe anxieties at the end of the talk. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
One particularly knowledgeable young man introduced himself as Damion Ciotti from the Habitat Restoration Division of US Fish and Wildlife Service. We connected several years ago and he was very interested in our work in Martinez. I made sure he left with a copy of Mike Callahan’s DVD. You can’t imagine how helpful his comments were in soothing the beaver-disbelievers in the room. I couldn’t have orchestrated it better than to let fish savvy folk do the defending for me!
So I was stunned to hear a few months ago that my AE was invited BACK to S.A.R.S.A.S. to speak on beavers this September. Again? I got word yesterday from Damion that he attended her talk and was dismayed to hear her describe beaver as responsible for “Ecosystem Collapse“. He tried to ask pointed questions but realized she didn’t have any sources for her info but anecdote. She apparently said that there was no region in California where beaver should ever be introduced.
Ecosystem Collapse. If you google the phrase with the word beavers you get zero hits. Only articles about them being a keystone species. I guess the research world doesn’t think like Mary Tappel.
Damion said she introduced herself as working for the state, and he was worried about the influence she might have with policy. She is still staff on the regional waterboards, which is a division of the CAEPA. (Bravely protecting the environment from beavers, apparently). She is still marching around calling herself a beaver expert, and even boasts of her work with Martinez on her resume.
Mary also dealt with beaver management questions and in foothill areas such as Granite Bay, Loomis, & Roseville; and towards the Bay/Delta area in Martinez, and to the south in Elk Grove, all in creeks and small retention basins. Mary’s involvement in foothill areas and smaller streams has always included salmonid passage concerns.
What a coincidence. With the exception of Martinez those cities are the very ones that issued the most depredation permits. Isn’t that just an amazing coincidence?
Which is not to say she hasn’t learned anything over the years. She used to preach devotedly that beavers ruined salmon passage, and now she says the salmon make their way around dams. Which is something. But I realize, sadly and with no small amount of panic, it’s not enough. I haven’t done enough. People want to hear what she says because they want to get rid of things that are inconvenient. She has a resonant message to deliver. And they want to hear what I say less because co-existence seems like it means work. Screw the salmon. Or the frogs. Just let me do what I want to do, sound environmental and give me cover. So I can get away with it.
I haven’t done enough. And even though, if you google her name, the warnings of this website are nearly the only thing that come up, even though I was able to follow her talk on her home turf in the very county where they kill the most beavers in the entire state, and even though I talked BWW into taking her off their resource list for beaver experts in CA: It’s not enough. I’m not doing enough.