Archive for the ‘Educational’ Category

And the results are in…

Posted by heidi08 On February - 9 - 2016ADD COMMENTS

A natural ally in the fight against floods – the beaver

The experiment which has been running for five years in West Devon has been both a world-first and a profound surprise for the scientific community. The results of the experiment are startling. During the five years the two beavers have lived a wild and natural existence in their seven-acre enclosure they have built 13 dams using the kind of scrub willow and hazel that tend to line Westcountry streams and these have had a profound effect on both water flows and on pollution.

The scientists have been looking at three different areas in the changing hydrology – the amount of flow which goes into the beaver-zone and then comes out; the increase in the area’s water storage capacity; and the effect on pollutants.

He explained how the 13 beaver dams are slowing the water flow. “The water comes in at the top and fills up behind the first dam, overflows and fills the next. It is like a staircase. There is a constant release of water – each pond draws down and is replenished before the next rainfall.

The professor showed us a graph on which a blue line showed flows measured at the input to the site, and a red line showed the outflow. As you’d expect, the blue line zig-zagged up and down as heavy rains were followed by dry periods – but the red line measuring output remained more-or-less straight across the middle of the graph.

And there was another reading. “From this landscape here we are seeing an average of 150 mg per litre of sediment coming off farmland in storms. But what we see leaving the site here is just 15mg per litre. Behind every one of these dams the water slows until it’s practically not moving – the sediment settles and fills the pond.

“If you are water company and a river has high sediment, it costs a lot of money to treat. Nitrogen and phosphorus both enter this site at reasonably high levels especially in storms – but at the bottom end we see so little in nitrogen and phosphate, the university’s equipment cannot actually detect the minute amount.

They’re doing a great job of showing why beaver belong on the landscape in Devon. I’m so pleased by their effort to document the changes. I take with many grains of salt the idea that this has never been studied before – but certainly the effect of two beavers on a habitat that’s been without them for 500 years has never been studied before. So that’s excellent!

Love this remark from the retired farmer who was willing to tolerate beavers on his land.

“This water is all going down to Roadford reservoir; it eventually becomes drinking water,” said Mr Morgan. “So if you can make the water cleaner, that is a good thing. “If they took the fences away, I’d be perfectly happy for the beavers to stay – they can be managed like everything else.”

Managed like everything else! Did I read that correctly? What man of steel is this that faces the beaver threat with actual pragmatic courage? I think I’m in love.

They’re even proposing incentives for farmers who allow beavers on their land. Be STILL my heart.

Mark Elliott, who is in charge of the beaver product for the Devon Wildlife Trust, has been spending a lot of time considering how farmers and landowners might get on with beavers if they were re-introduced to British landscapes after centuries.

“The key challenge is ensuring there is some mechanism by which landowners who store water on their land in the headwaters get some sort of payment for the wider benefits that they are providing for society,” he told the WMN, adding that he was not just talking about beaver-created wetlands.

“There are already Countryside Stewardship schemes that recognise the wildlife benefits, and pay a landowner for changing the way they farm – but if a landowner allows beavers to flood some low-lying pasture, for example, maybe they should receive some sort of payment for the reduction in flooding downstream.”

Can I get an amen?

Here’s a little something I put together yesterday to celebrate urban beavers.

urban beaver

Nature in the City Everywhere.

Posted by heidi08 On February - 4 - 2016Comments Off on Nature in the City Everywhere.

The grand plan in Vancouver is sweeping the media at the moment and there are plenty of follow ups to the story if you want to see them. Try here and here.

Yesterday I was contacted by a member of the Grosse Ille Nature and Land Conservancy about the beavers in the Detroit River. She was very happy about what the return meant, and wanted to pull together some advocates to keep things headed in the right direction. The funny thing was, I remembered writing about this back in 2012 and saying: sure they’re happy now, but wait until those beavers start chewing trees of blocking culverts.

Beavers: marginally better than pollution!

Ahhh how Nice. Okay, mark your calendars and set your clocks, because as encouraging as this article is I predict it will be a matter of months before we start reading stories about neighborhoods with blocked culverts and chopped trees. Folks are excited when beavers come BACK to an area because they assume it means they did very good things to make it possible. Hughlet Hornbeck once explained to me that the beavers coming back to Alhambra Creek was proof that EBRP had been doing the right thing for 50 years, for example.

Then industrial pollution in the mid-20th Century made the Detroit River too toxic for beaver and many other species to return. The cleanup of the river in recent decades has seen many species making a comeback.

“This is one piece of evidence,” Hartig said of the latest beaver sighting. “But if you add in there the return of lake sturgeon, the return of lake whitefish, the return of walleye, the return of bald eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, beaver, wild celery, it’s one of the most dramatic ecological recovery stories in North America.”

Beavers are still exciting enough along the Detroit River that the reporter does an excellent job researching their history and providing context.. Enjoy it while it lasts though, because in the blink of an eye they’ll be reporting that gangs of four foot tall beavers cut down all the trees and caused tularemia.

So it’s been three years and its time for folks to get worried about their challenging handiwork, I’m glad friends are starting to get ready for an argument. We of course will help any way we can.

Speaking of helping, I got these fun photos from the Mountain House beavers in CA, and will be working with a supporter to help her put together a beaver article for the local paper. How cool are these photos for thinking about urban beaver!


mountain house lodge

Mountain House Beaver Lodge: Caitlin McCombs

And this fine example of dam building with reeds. You see beavers use material on hand.

mountain house dam

Mountain House Dam of mostly reeds: Caitlin McComb

Yesterday I learned that the city’s primary concern is that they believe the beavers are digging tunnels under the road. The city has already filled some with concrete. For the life of me I can’t think of any reason a beaver would do THAT, so I’m guessing this story is about to get very interesting!

New donation yesterday for the silent auction from Mink Works, by animator and Illustrator Marielle Rousseau of New York. How adorable is this? I ask you honestly. Go check out all her stuff. It’s delightful and she’s a self-professed wildlife lover in addition to being a real talent,

Beaver Impressive

Posted by heidi08 On February - 3 - 2016Comments Off on Beaver Impressive

Too much good news. Some days there is almost nothing to cover, and other days everything good seems to happen at once. Yesterday I found out for the first time that Patti Smith keeps a blog about her observations of wildlife. You might remember she was the gentle soul keeping an eye on the beavers of Popples Pond in Vermont. She brought some helpers to the snowy stream to reinforce their food supply yesterday.Capture

This afternoon, Margaretta and Isabelle arrived to help the stranded beavers with an offering of poplar boughs from their home in Dummerston. Once at the pond, I call to Willow and then we all sit quietly on the upside-down sled hoping that Willow won’t think it too early to come out to visit. After a few minutes, David, the lucky dad of these two great girls, spots Willow hauling herself onto the ice at one of the upstream holes.

girls&willHow much do you envy that child? Willow is such a good sport. If you’d like to read more of Patti’s adventures you should check out her blog and pick up a copy of “The beavers of Popples Pond“. You won’t be disappointed.

Now onto more good news and a fine article from Vancouver. Just in time for our urban beaver chapter, too.

Vancouver’s urban-beaver plan focuses on enhancing habitats

Several dozen beavers are thought to be living in Vancouver, some of them making themselves at home in restored marshland near the Olympic Village, and now the city’s park’s board has approved a strategy that will give them some company.

The Vancouver Park Board has approved a detailed strategy to enhance and expand coastlines, forests and wetlands across the city. The Biodiversity Strategy aims to restore 25 hectares of natural land by 2020 – much of it spread across various shorelines – as well as tackle forest restoration near the Fraser River.

“There’s lots of evidence that there are physical and mental benefits for those who access nature in their daily lives,” biologist Nick Page, of the parks board, said in an interview. “Compared to rural populations, there are few points of access to nature in the city.”

How wonderful is THAT. Of course wildlife is good for our physical and mental health. So good in fact that they might have lifted that sentence EXACTLY from my section of the chapter. I’m so envious of the beaver plan in Vancouver. The impressive thing is that they even have the chops to stand up to pressure like this.

“The problem comes when beavers start working on natural water courses,” said Wayne Goodey, a University of British Columbia lecturer with a background in animal psychology. “In general ecological principles, even a couple of animals can do a large amount of damage to the landscaping.”

Mr. Page, however, is confident that adaptation, not relocation, is the best strategy for these local beavers.

“There’s not really an opportunity for them to dam anything, and if they do, there’s very little chance of them flooding important infrastructure,” he said. “Relocation is very expensive, $10,000 each beaver. You can protect a lot of trees and clean out a lot of culverts for that price.”

 My mind is reeling from this article. What a WONDEFUL response to beavers appearing in an urban environment, and to a pompus know nothing who pretends to understand that beavers are bad for creeks. Hrmph. Think of how much our chapter will help them justify this bold decision. I am so impressed with Mr. Page. He gets a letter.

And silly Mr. Goodey does too. He apparently understands neither animals nor psychology.

Finally, I came across this yesterday and feel so irresponsible I hadn’t seen it months ago. Dietland is THE author on beavers and kind enough to donate two copies of his book to the silent auction at this year’s beaver festival. He also has done head-turning research on scent mounds, and if you ever wondered about this unique beaver behavior, you really should watch this all the way through. His video footage is fascinating.

Thank you Dr. Muller-Swarze for your lifetime of beaver research and for sharing it with us!


It wasn’t me, I swear!

Posted by heidi08 On January - 25 - 2016Comments Off on It wasn’t me, I swear!

Tragedy has struck a nice Canadian neighborhood. I’m sure the Mounties are interviewing the usual suspects. I anticpate a phone call any minute.

Beaver bench stolen from central Edmonton neighbourhood


All that’s left of the Holdsworths’ prized beaver bench, that just last week sat proudly in front of their Inglewood home, is splinters and drag marks. You could say the evidence proving foul play is “dam-ing.” 

“I think that somebody obviously saw it,” said owner Sue Holdsworth. “They scoped it out, saw how hard it was to remove and came prepared with tools, a truck, and chain and probably yanked it out.”

The Holdsworths commissioned the beaver bench from artist Joe Renaud in 2007.

Holdsworth says they wanted a bench because her mother-in-law would come from England and couldn’t walk very far around the neighbourhood without having to sit down. This prompted her husband to commission the bench. 

“He really did it just in the interest of making the neighbourhood more walkable,” said Holdsworth, “and for him it was really boring just to have a bench, so he called for a piece of public art.”

Sad times are these when passing hooligans can steal a beaver bench at will! What were the neighbors doing anyway? And why didn’t they notice a truck hauling away a beaver bench with a chain? Hmm. Maybe they paid him or her to do it. It’s not the loveliest likeness I’ve ever seen.  I mean it’s not THIS, for instance.

giant beaver 016More clues that this beaver campaign is catching on. Here’s a letter from someone named Penelope M. Blair from Moab Utah. The best part is that I don’t recognize her name or know anything about her. I love when we find friends we never knew we had!

Beaver believer

quoeRegarding Avery McGaha’s wetland article (“A desert oasis, lost and found,” HCN, 12/21/15):   Instead of cattails, the cienega should have native willows and cottonwoods. Instead of messing around with logs and dams of his own making, A.T. Cole should import some beavers. The beavers belong in that ecosystem and would do a much better job of restoring it. They can even take an arroyo, with intermittent water, and make dams with mud and stones and bring it back to a healthy system. If Mr. Cole would use the help of beavers instead of trying to be a human beaver, he wouldn’t have to worry about floods; the beavers would prevent those. The areas where beavers are allowed to do their thing are amazing. Yeah, beavers!

Penelope M. Blair
Moab, Utah


A sister from another mister! My long lost twin! Nicely done, Penny. I think Penelope must be friends with someone we know. Last I heard  one Mary Obrien lived in Moab Utah, so maybe they have coffee together every Tuesday morning. It doesn’t matter. She’s obviously family, and I’m thrilled she said what needed to be said!

No new products today, as no one decided to be generous yesterday, although there were many candidates. One thing that we CAN celebrate is that Robin of Napa agreed to do the bid sheets again for the auction, and that is a truly wonderful thing. She did a stellar job last year, and you have no idea how strangely it affects you brain to write things like  this over and over!

Adorable handmade ceramic beaver ornament. Decorate with style while showing your support for beavers. You may need more than one!

Thanks Robin!

Old thinking in New Mexico

Posted by heidi08 On January - 18 - 2016Comments Off on Old thinking in New Mexico

Guess how much fun I had yesterday? This much.

And from the Department of False Dichotomies in New Mexico:

Beavers: Nuisance or necessary?

For at least the past decade, residents angry about beaver-related property damage have been at odds with conservation advocates who claim the animals are an essential drought management tool in arid New Mexico. The issue prompted an ongoing conflict between the Santa Fe Girls’ School and La Cieneguilla resident Ed Sceery that recently escalated into a court fight. The private middle school has been conducting a 10-year restoration project on land bordering Sceery’s property, and he says the work has drawn beavers that are damaging his trees and causing erosion.


A beaver dam on the Santa Fe River near Paseo Real and Calle Debra in the Santa Fe Airport. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

At the edge of a road in La Cieneguilla that borders the Santa Fe River, just up the bank from a beaver dam, a crack in the asphalt — likely due to erosion — has grown to a man-sized hole. The area is demarcated by two orange hazard barrels. Trees are toppled over, split in half by jagged teeth.

Sceery, who calls himself a conservationist, wants the animals removed from the land.

Peggy Johnson, a hydrogeologist for the state who studied the La Cieneguilla area in 2010, said the dilemma that beavers pose is a fundamental conflict between man and nature, especially in places like La Cieneguilla, which was a wetlands area more than a century ago but has since been altered by managed water systems. The Santa Fe River that runs through the community, once a free-flowing waterway, now feeds two municipal reservoirs far upstream that help keep city taps flowing.

In developed areas with managed water systems, beavers can act as a force of chaos, Johnson said. “[Beavers] have minds of their own. They are very active and dynamic and have a big impact on the system.”

For watershed restoration work in a natural setting, which includes maintaining wildlife habitats, preventing erosion and raising groundwater levels, Johnson said, beavers are a “very effective” tool. Whether a beaver’s impact is viewed as hurtful or helpful, she said, “depends on who is affected.”

However, Bryan Bird, a program director for WildEarth Guardians, said his organization’s requests for nuisance permits to relocate beavers have been denied, with the department saying relocation “could just be creating another problem somewhere else,” and it would only be “moving the problem rather than getting rid of it.”

Bird said WildEarth Guardians has done extensive research on where beavers would most benefit the environment, “but that hasn’t been good enough.”

I’m happy to see Mr. Sceery still isn’t getting his way. And happy this article is hostile enough to say honestly that he’s the one that “calls himself” a conservationist. (I suppose if you want to keep things your own way and preserve your selfish interests above everyone else’s that’s a kind of ‘conservation’.) But Bryan needs to push harder about beaver benefits and  that they  ought to be left to their own devices so that they can use their ecosystem services to improve the landscape wherever they see fit. Still,  it’s nice to have this argument in the limelight  – even if its only about permission to relocate.

At least the coauthor of the states beaver relocation legislation, has the right idea.

Keller, now the state auditor, said he first learned about the importance of beavers when he was 19 and working as a Boy Scout at the Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron.

“Nature’s solution is far more effective and cheaper than anything you can contrive in this regard,” he said, citing beavers’ role in mitigating drought and forest fires.

He said he still believes the beaver plan should be a Game and Fish priority. “And as state auditor, I know they have the budget.” He pointed to $10 million that has yet to be spent in the department’s budget.

Keller said recent studies have cited beavers as a climate change-resilient species. “This is a low-cost, potentially high-return idea.”

Amen to that. Not sure how I got on Mr. Keller’s radar back when all this was getting passed but his chief of staff called me when he was running for auditor. I explained that I didn’t live in the state and probably couldn’t be much help. But it’s nice to see he’s still a believer.

I know I am.

Could this be the news beavers have been waiting for?

Posted by heidi08 On January - 16 - 2016Comments Off on Could this be the news beavers have been waiting for?

Fish and Game upheaval reveals shift in California wildlife policy

The sudden resignation of the most adamant defender of hunting and fishing on the California Fish and Game Commission could put the finishing touches on a sweeping philosophical shift in the way the state views wildlife, sets rules for fishing and controls predators like mountain lions and wolves.

Commissioner Jim Kellogg retired in late December in frustration over what he termed a lack of consideration for the sportsmen and women he represents. The resignation — combined with the unrelated recent departures of commission President Jack Baylis and Sonke Mastrup, the commission’s executive director — sets the stage for Gov. Jerry Brown to appoint conservationists to the increasingly pivotal state board.

Such a move may, observers say, complete the transformation of the commission from an organization that advocates for fishing and hunting to one that safeguards endangered species, preserves habitat and protects California’s top predators from slaughter.

The five-member commission, whose job is to recommend policies to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, has been wading through divisive issues that could profoundly impact the future of the state, including what to do about diminishing salmon populations, sick sea lions and disappearing sea otters.

“I’m leaving pretty much out of frustration,” Kellogg said in an interview. He had been on the board for 14 years when he retired Dec. 31, the longest-serving member of the commission.

“I’m just tired of being the only one fighting the fight for the hunters and fishers,” he said. “The first 12 years I won most of the battles, and the last couple of years I lost almost every battle.”

Poor Mr. Kellogg. As he said, he used to win most arguments just by showing up. And now with all these darned conservationists at the table he actually has to TRY and use facts and stuff. No wonder he’s quitting.

Why aren’t “Sportsmen” better sports?

And before you say that I’m being unfair to a breakfast cereal, remember that we in Martinez have a very fond remembrance f0r the man. Way back in the day the beavers were first slated for killing, the mayor negotiated a special deal with Mr. Kellogg that would allow two of the six beavers to be relocated, and after a short quarantine period, re-homed on tribal hand in Plumas county. Of course the other 4 would have to be killed, but hey, the man threw us a bone!

(Well, you may remember that on November 7, 2007 Martinez emphatically decided not to be boned. They  said pretty definitively they didn’t want to kill their beavers, or save a few. They wanted to keep them ALL. And the rest, as they say, is history.)

Now back to our story, apparently the renamed CDFG is going through an identity crisis. They even hired a black man [horrors!] for the first time in 145 years! Imagine the confusion changing their name caused in 2012. All I can say is that it couldn’t happen to a nicer bully.

But it was the resignation of Kellogg, who often teamed up with Sutton and Richards, that was viewed by many as the end of the line for the hunting and fishing coalition on the commission.

The changes on the commission are an illustration of a statewide phenomenon. Californians, more than ever, regard wildlife, including apex predators, as a valuable part of the ecosystem instead of as food or vermin.

Chuck Bonham, the director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, says he is committed to embracing science-based wildlife and ecosystem management while preserving the history and traditions associated with hunting and fishing.

Clearly, though, there has been a movement away from those traditions. The transformation became vivid in 2012 when then-Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael, who has since been elected to Congress, introduced a bill to change the name of the department that has managed fishing and hunting in California since 1872 from “Fish and Game” to “Fish and Wildlife.”

The bill passed in 2013 despite opposition from hunters, who saw it as a signal that game animals would soon be made off-limits. The commission itself, however, maintained the “Fish and Game” moniker despite lobbying by environmental groups to change the names of both the commission and the department it serves.

Hmm, I wonder who will replace Kellogg on that commission? I have some suggestions if you need any. In the meantime we should be cautiously optimistic that this, and the pressure to save salmon, will nudge something in the beaver’s favor. It’s a new world, baby. Where bobcat hunting is outlawed and people have to actually crack open those old ecology texts to figure out what words like “Apex predators” and “Keystone species” actually mean.

Given the week we all had, this song is perfect for the occasion.

Beasts of the Field – The Builders

Posted by heidi08 On January - 15 - 2016Comments Off on Beasts of the Field – The Builders

Capture1Ooh Santa came an extra time this year, and lovingly scanned “The Builders” chapter for my reading pleasure. Turns out he needn’t have gone through the trouble because the entire book, including its charming illustrations in the margins, is online and searchable here.

The author was a minister in Connecticut in the last 1800’s who would journey every winter to the “Wilds of Maine” and report on his findings. His chapter on beavers is appropriately called “The Builders”.

lovingly illustratedOf course I’m interested in the subject, but I’m even more intrigued by any man who stops what he’s doing and actually watches beavers work over time.  I love his descriptions of family members, dams selected, and especially work gone astray. Read this.

The buildersThe notion that beavers make mistakes and LEARN from those mistakes is entirely supported by our observations in Martinez. We’ve seen badly executed dams become intelligent dams over time and over night. And it’s certainly true what they say, no one is born an expert.

I’m trying to give you enough of a feel for his Captureobservations that you’ll be tempted  to go read them yourself, because its truly worth doing. I especially enjoyed his discussion of the opinions of lodge-building beaver vs bank-dwelling beaver. At the time, the native belief was that the bank dwelling beaver was lazy and driven out by his family for never doing any work. The white theory more charitably ascribed his oddities to the fact that he hadn’t yet found a mate, and was living like a bachelor. Mr. Long himself had a third theory, that bank burrowing beavers “lacked the normal instincts” of their kind and were examples of the exception proving the rule.

Of course we know they are all wrong. Because the Martinez Beavers DID twice build a lodge. And did three times raise a family without a lodge. And seemed to possess every other instinct a beaver might rightly claim.   Dr. Duncan Haley of Norway believes beavers prefer to live in large rivers where dams and lodges can’t exist, and that only an increase in population drives them towards the smaller streams where they have to work for a living.

But I disagree. I think beavers make individual choices and as a rule do only as much work as they need to get by. If they can get by without a lodge, they will.  And if they need to build one to keep their family safe, they can. What do you think? I think at the time he wrote this the fur trade had already altered the habits of the few remaining beavers. And he should have visited Martinez.



So with Robin’s valiant labor we have compiled complete records of beaver depredation between for 2013 and 2014. Seeing  them in print doesn’t make me any happier. Let’s home 2015 records show some improvements.

13-14 map