Yesterday was supposed to be a languid Wednesday where I sat around and practiced my talk for SARSAS on Monday. Instead my little desk exploded into beaver central around 1 when someone who had been referred by Brock Dolman wrote me from Winters that they were trying to save a rare piebald beaver that was living in a section of creek going to be destroyed in the name of progress.
I assume you are like me and had never really heard the word “piebald” before, so you might need a short refresher course. The Dictionary definition is “Spotted or patched, especially in black and white.” A pinto horse is piebald. Rarely a hunter will get lucky enough to shoot a piebald deer. And very very rarely we have stories of piebald beaver.
Remember that before the fur trade we used to have all colorations of beaver. Blonde beaver. Redhead beaver. And Piebald beaver. After the population was nearly destroyed that variation vanished. Well almost vanished. Because apparently there is at least one colored beaver left in California.
And, there’s something else you shouldn’t wait to see, if you can see it at all. I’m outing a secret, and am gambling on the goodwill of humanity against stupidity (a big gamble, I know): There’s an extremely rare piebald beaver that frequents this area. Local nature photographer and wildlife expert, Alejandro Garcia, camped out for hours just to get a photo of it, which I’ve seen, and it’s pretty darn amazing. It’s a regular brown beaver in all ways, with a thick white stripe in its midsection like an ice cream sandwich.
Alejandro told me there are only a handful of piebald beaver in existence. I googled it, and aside from some horrific trapping sites based in Arkansas, the only information I could find was from a book written in 1876 by John J. Bowman, entitled, “The Emigrant and Sportsman in Canada — Some Experiences of an Old Country Setter.” Bowman merely says, in a story about his experiences with wild beaver, “I saw one piebald beaver; his back was black, his sides white, and belly reddish.”
That’s it. The sum total of all the information about piebald beavers, almost as rare as a dodo, and, by a miracle of nature, there’s one living in a little pocket of natural habitat along Putah Creek in Winters. What a great mascot this animal could be for our little creekside town. But no. We’re glibly forcing it to “move on.” If you want to get a glimpse of it before it’s gone, don’t wait. The bulldozers are coming.
An ice cream sandwich beaver! How could I not come to full attention! I conferred with the author, contacted some professors at UC Davis to see if we could get some interest, swapped emails with Beth to see if there was anything that National Wildlife Federation could do, called Sarah Koenisberg to see if she might want to film it for her upcoming documentary, and talked with the director I knew at Fish and Game. He pointed me to his counterpart in Winters who, like everyone I talked to, was very interested but wasn’t sure that a beaver could be protected just for its coloration. I reminded him that it was kit season and that there was a good chance that at least one of the kits would have some coloration too. (OMG) And he was more interested.
Now here’s where the story gets very very fascinating.
In our amiable chat he reminded me that beaver were depredation-able and nuisance permits could be issued for their death. I said I understood that very well, and that in fact there were no limits on how many beaver could be written into the permit for depredation. He said, that’s not true. And with no hesitation at all I said come on! I just reviewed all the permits in California for the last two years an there were 51 unlimited permits issued!
‘And he agreed that used to be true but two months ago there had been a meeting and they were told not to issue unlimited permits — then he stopped talking abruptly surprised — maybe that was because of you!
I have zero idea whether it was because of me, but I do know that a third of the permits we reviewed were written for ‘unlimited’ numbers of beavers, and now according to him, none will be. NONE.
I was so focused on finding a way to save that piebald beaver it really didn’t sink in until later. No unlimited permits! I wish I’d asked about that meeting where they were told not to do it. Was it regional? Or with a higher up? Was it time limited? Was there any push back about it?
Of course there were more people to call about piebald beaver, so I had to stop feeling surprised and just feel like I might be able to help. Then there were several forwards about the Fargo beavers and the war room had to redirect. It’s always good to know your work matters. I did what I could for Piebald beaver. And maybe some one will share a photo soon.
Now it’s off to Fargo!
FARGO—A growing chorus of animal rights supporters wants the Fargo Park Board to reconsider its plan to trap and kill beavers in city parks along the Red River.
One of the leading voices is Megan Bartholomay, a 38-year-old Fargo resident who believes the board’s plan is barbaric.
”We’re a civilized community living in 2015,” she said. “Is this the only way? What else have we tried?”
One supporter of Megan tracked down Carol Evans from the PBS documentary (it’s always easier to find the emails of government employee!) and she forwarded it to me to see if I could help. I gave lots of thoughts and resources and am eager to see what happens in Fargo. It’s not an impossible battle because there is already lots of beaver intelligence in the state. Just look at this comment I highlighted in 2012 in Fargo from Game and Fish!
“Probably the most economical way of dealing with beaver is wrapping the trees, probably a couple three feet up as high as a beaver can stand off the ground, with chicken wire or some kind of wire mesh to keep the beavers in, they’ll leave it alone.” says Doug Leier with North Dakota Game and Fish.
Go team Fargo! It’s up to you now.