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

The Martinez Beavers

Category: Educational


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.


beaversaryTen years ago today there was no Worth A Dam, no website, and no beaver community. There were only a bunch of citizens who thought it was a bad idea for their city to kill their beavers and showed up at a meeting to tell them so. This short clip of the UK documentary Beavers Las Vegas, produced by the independent film company Middle Child Productions, shows only the barest HINT of how many passionate and persuasive comments occurred. The clip I put together isn’t very long, but you should definitely watch all the way to the end to understand why it was so successful in changing the city council’s plan.

That Dam Meeting! from Heidi Perryman on Vimeo.

A handful of very passionate folks gathered at my home right before the meeting to discuss strategy. Former city council member Bill Wainwright brought port from the local city vineyard to share for courage, and gave us lots of advice about how to pitch our message persuasively. I spent the week handing out these stamped opinion cards and I’m sure hope the city got several.

card

That night, having never spoken at a public meeting before, and after barely being brave enough to call Sherri Tippie and ask for advice about relocation, I delivered the following comments:

I’m a lifelong resident of Martinez and a downtown homeowner.  While I would much rather have the beavers relocated than killed, I feel the city has failed to capitalize on a remarkable opportunity and let us all down.  In this case the DFG made some unique concessions and creative solutions, the Lindsay museum agreed to go above and beyond its calling, but the city of Martinez did neither. 

Although it has been widely reported that the city “Tried to think of another way to manage flood risk” the evidence for this is not strong.  The city Manager’s report does not even mention water-flow or leveling devices.  In fact these techniques have been used successfully for years and are well researched and understood.  Reports show a 93-100% satisfaction with them.  There is other evidence of neglect: the hydrology report does not mention tides and describes the dam as a “concrete weir” which of course it is not.  Finally, no report has looked at the likely environmental impact of removing the dam and the possible effect on new and returning species that depend on its waters: such as the famous baby otter, or the less famous but still endangered California pond turtle which has been in evidence.

If the city is determined to remove the beavers, they should be aware that successful relocation is not uncomplicated or well understood.  Since the state of California does not routinely allow relocation, there are few trappers trained in its use.  Hancock traps must be employed, and when misused can still result in harm or death.  Snare traps can cause invisible internal injuries.  Beavers have no internal temperature regulation and are there for highly vulnerable to hypothermia.  Families must be caught and released together.  I have spoken extensively with the nationally renowned expert in this area, Sherri Tippie, and have outlined her suggestions as well.  I submit them along with reports on flow control for their review.

 Many cities face these crises with technology, creativity and compassion. I wish Martinez was among them.

In the end it didn’t matter what I said. What mattered is what 50 people got up and said, and what 200 people applauded and cheered. The council sat frozen like four [Janet was in China, thank goodness] deer in headlights and we could tell we had all their attention. We knew the meeting was special while it was happening, getting more remarkable with every comment and cheer of solidarity. No one left early. And no one got tired. Nearly four hours sped by. To me it felt like a huge electrical charging station that filled me with unexpected energy for the road ahead. Remember, there was an offer on the table to ‘relocate’ the beavers, and I truly thought I might be the ONLY person to show up and disagree with that.

People sometimes assume that I somehow organized or ‘made’ that meeting. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

That meeting made me.

news

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!

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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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