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

The Martinez Beavers

Category: Environmental

News of the environment or beavers impact on their ecology


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


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.


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.


This has been a busy month. I knew another pin was going to drop, but Ohio? Who would have guessed?

John Switzer: Beaver moon highlights species’ revival in Ohio

CaptureThis month’s moon is called the beaver moon, and it was full Saturday.

It is called the beaver moon because now is when beaver dens are snug and stocked with food in preparation for the winter. All fall, beavers have been cutting branches and taking them to their dens so that they can dine on the bark and wood. Sounds like a tasty winter meal.

There’s another reason the November moon is called the beaver moon. Hal Borland wrote in the book “Twelve Moons of the Year” that by November the beaver’s pelts are in prime condition. Back during this nation’s settlement, beaver hats were all the rage here and in Europe, and pelts were considered the same as currency. Their pelts were so desired that by the 1830s, beavers had been extirpated from Ohio, said Jim McCormac, a wildlife biologist.

But beavers are again relevant because they have returned to all 88 Ohio counties, entering the state from the north and east, McCormac said. McCormac said Ohio is home to an estimated 30,000 beavers. He also said that if beavers live in your area, its biodiversity and natural heath are profiting “big-time.”

Many plants and animals benefit from beaver dams and the ponds they create. He gave the example of the beautiful wood duck, whose population is increasing partly because of beaver dams.

“There are no better ecological engineers,” McCormac said of beavers.

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But having beavers in the area is not without its negative consequences. When they dam up creeks and streams, they sometime cause the flooding of farmland and other places that humans rely on.

I’ll give you an example. Early last spring I went out to Glacier Ridge Metro Park near Dublin and the park’s wetlands and a few of the nearby bike trails and hiking paths were covered by water. Beavers had dammed up the small stream that flows through the area and, by the end of the winter, caused a small flood.

But all was not lost. The Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks placed pipes through the dam so the water level could be easily lowered mechanically. “That allows us to drop the water down and not interfere with the beavers’ activities,” said Peg Hanley, spokeswoman for the parks system.

WOW! Jim McCormac is a wildlife biologist who knows his beavers! My goodness that’s exciting to read from the state. You can tell the columnist, John Switzer of the Columbus Dispatch, is not exactly sold on the flat tailed animals yet – but this article is a formidable start. I’m terribly pleased!

I was so impressed that I had to go searching for Jim McCormac and found his nature blog, Ohio birds and Capturebiodiversity. It is a wonderful collection of photographs and information. Jim is photographer and a self-described naturalist. The website has been around since 2007!

“I am a lifelong Ohioan who has made a study of natural history since the age of eight or so – longer than I can remember! A fascination with birds has grown into an amazement with all of nature, and an insatiable curiosity to learn more. One of my major ambitions is to get more people interested in nature. The more of us who care, the more likely that our natural world will survive.”

Obviously his site has enough respect and readers to get attention, and his opinions about beavers are making a difference. Thanks Jim! You are welcome any year at our beaver festival!


Yesterday was a strangely successful day that turned out well for beavers. After writing about the Mystic lake madness I wrote the acting director of the Custer Gallatan Forest Service and some city folks protesting the decision to sit on this problem for three months and then expose the beavers to slow death. I was written back fairly promptly by that acting director saying the army corps of engineers had told them there was a risk of a 500-year flood event for the town below if the dam washed out. He assured me they knew about flow devices and would talk about this for the future, but had to do this now. The beavers would be trapped, not left to starve, which was something.

I was grimly comforted by this news, and mollified that he wrote back at all which I did not expect. He also said that he was back at his regular job now in Vermont and another ranger was in charge – whom he cc’d on the message so we could be in touch. I still thought the beavers were done for, but I was glad that my letter had been responded to.

45 minutes later I received this:

Update on Mystic Lake project.  Engineers are currently working on a mitigation device to keep water to tolerable level after lowering and keeping the beavers in the system.  Long term solutions will be discussed at a later date.  Thanks.

Chad Benson
Deputy Forest                                                                                                                                                                                  Custer Gallatin National Forest

surprised-child-skippy-jon

There must have been a lot of other public outcry besides mine. Maybe we’ll  never know. I will say I am capable of writing a fairly decent letter, but am downright talented at finding the right email address to target even when folks work hard to hide it. Still, I can count on one hand the number of times something like this happens. Maybe it has something to do with Amy’s recent presentation on the topic and my reminding the ranger of her skills and the fact that she was trained by the man who solved our beaver problem a decade ago? Maybe someone chained themselves to a bulldozer or threatened to stop dating the mayor’s niece. Who knows how these things work?

I’m just happy it did!

disperser
Dispersal: Elizabeth Saunders

To celebrate I started thinking about a festival design that would promote our new location and vaguely remembered a charming illustration by Elizabeth Saunders the artist who works with Cows and Fish. It was about beaver dispersal, but I thought it could easily be re-purposed to inspire Amelia on our brochure this year. Even as a starting place, I’m liking this a lot.

moving

Today is full of blessings in every way! Louise Ramsay posted this on FB a very nice beaver program from radio 4. There are some irritating parts but stay patient because it gets very good. I especially find it kind of wonderful to hear how happily the reporter describes their return. Enjoy!

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