Archive for the ‘Educational’ Category

How the West was Watered: The next chapter.

Posted by heidi08 On October - 22 - 2016ADD COMMENTS

These are the golden days of beaver news. Yesterday a glowing report on VPR and today a glowing report on NHPR. But we’ll talk about that later, because this article from New Scientist Magazine has earned top billing.

captureHow beavers could help save the western US from a dry future

By MacGregor Campbell

How fortunes change. The fur rush drove the North American beaver, Castor canadensis, to near-extinction. Then, after a remarkable comeback last century, the once-prized rodent became a pest. Now, some say it could be on the cusp of a fresh rebranding: not as a prize or a pest, but as a prodigy.

Known as nature’s engineers, beavers seem to magic water out of nowhere. Crucially, their dams also help to store that water. At a time when California faces endless water shortages and long-standing drought, could beavers be part of a more natural solution?

Shrubs swallow the rocks, bulrushes stand in a wide expanse of clear, still
water, and cottonwood trees tower over the landscape. In the speckled
shadows, yellow butterflies dip and soar while finger-sized blue dragonflies
perch on reeds. Translucent baby fish take cover under waterlogged sticks.
Beavers and humans have been busy. “We’re building an ecosystem here,
says Michael Pollock, a researcher with the National Oceanographic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), based in Seattle, Washington state.

Ohlala! Curl up with your saturday morning cuppa and settle in for the best read of the entire week. Any article that starts out with Pollock is going to go places we want to be. We’re all in at this point. Unfortunately that’s all the preview the magazine gives for free but we are old friends right? They didn’t mean to keep us out.

In 2010, local landowner Betsy Stapleton got in touch with Pollock after
reading about some of his research. Pollock was interested in something
called beaver dam analogues. Typically consisting of a line of posts set
across a stream bed and interwoven with willow and cottonwood branches,
these faux dams slow water down and widen out a stream to form a pond.
The goal? To attract beavers. Putting one up is like prepping beaver real
estate for sale.

scotts-riverIn Sugar Creek, much to Stapleton’s delight, the faux dams worked. As she wades through soft muck into surprisingly pristine pond water, she points out evidence of beavers all around. Sticks with chew marks are strewn across the pond bottom. A scent-mound of dried mud stands guard telling interlopers that the pond is spoken for. Vegetation has been stuffed into both dam analogues. “They like to plug every little hole,” says Stapleton.

For Pollock, Sugar Creek was a test case for a new way to manage water.
When Stapleton first contacted him, the site had just a trickle of water. It felt
symptomatic of the wider issues facing California, namely persistent
drought and dwindling groundwater resources, neither of which is likely to
be eased by climate change. Traditionally, the answer has been to build
more channels, reservoirs and other artificial water infrastructure. Pollock
believes beavers are a better solution.

At Sugar Creek, on the other hand, the water gets stuck. Beneath it isn’t just
rock but rich soil too. NOAA hydrologist Brian Cluer points out sand and fine
dirt that has come from further upstream. In the still waters of the ponds, it
settles. Grasses, reeds and other plants take root in the stuff, locking it and
its moisture in place. With time, a thick base of rich, moist soil builds up,
helping to raise the water table.

Cluer says that all this has a huge knock-on effect. The water seeps down
into the ground, recharging underground aquifers. That matters because
California is depleting its groundwater at an alarming rate. It is now tapping
into “fossil” water that has been underground for tens of thousands of
years. Farmland is sinking as aquifers collapse. This is the price you pay for
an intensive water management system predicated on drained wetlands
and artificial channels, says Cluer.

Oh my goodness, creating biodiversity AND recharging our bone- dry collapsed aquifers. That’s got to sound pretty good to a lot of bureaucrats out there. Hope the aide to the governor is reading this. We’re at the part of the article where they talk about the ‘buts’ though. But here’s the bad news. I’m braced. Give it your best shot MacGregor.

It’s not all sweetness and light, however. Humans and beavers working in
harmony to restore degraded ecosystems is an alluring dream, but the
reality is somewhat more complicated. For one, there’s a reason why
beavers are considered a nuisance: they don’t always do what you want
them to. Introduce them in the wrong area and they can wreak havoc.
Chewed trees, plugged culverts, flooded fields and roads – the same
behaviours that make beavers excellent engineers are often at odds with
human infrastructure. Across the US, that means damage costing tens of
millions of dollars each year.

Introducing beavers to an area doesn’t always go well for the animals either,
says Jimmy Taylor, a wildlife biologist with the US Department of
Agriculture, based in Corvallis, Oregon. Dropping them into a new area can
leave them vulnerable to predators and without enough food while they
build their infrastructure.

Alright if the most negative voice you got is Jimmy Taylor, I can handle it.It’s funny how this article is turning into a ‘Who’s who’ of beavers and my beaver podcasts isn’t it? You really should go listen to them again just to make sure you know what’s going on. Yes, beavers don’t always survive reintroduction and beavers block culverts. Can we go back to the good news now? No we have to fret about fish first.

Minimising conflict between beavers and humans is a good start, but not
the whole story. Some fish and wildlife managers are concerned that the
dams obstruct fish and so will harm stocks. Pollock doesn’t buy the
argument. Together with Wheaton and others, he has recently completed a
large-scale study of the effect beaver dams have on steelhead trout
numbers at Bridge Creek in Oregon. In 2008, the team started building
beaver dam analogues along a 32-kilometre stretch of the watershed,
eventually completing 121 by 2012. The resident beavers chipped in,
building on top of the artificial dams and creating new ones too. By 2013,
there were 236.

Before the experiment, the density of fish living in Bridge Creek was the
same as at nearby Murderer’s Creek, but by 2013 it was nearly double. It
seems that far from being harmed by the dams, fish were benefiting from
the wetter, more protected environment. What’s more, so far as the team
could tell, there was no change in the number of adult fish heading
upstream to spawn. They seemed to have no trouble hopping over the

“Beavers and salmon have been evolving together since at least the
Pliocene, 3 million years ago,” Pollock points out. He says preliminary
results at Sugar Creek tell a similar story. Before the beaver dam analogues,
they counted tens or hundreds of baby fish in a typical summer. After?
Thousands. “There’s way more than we can count,” says Pollock.

Ohhh yes, that’s the kind of research I like best! The snappy ‘take that’ kind of research! If I didn’t know better I’d think that maybe this would change the way people looked at beavers. I’d think that this article would open eyes, and minds. But  I’ve been in the beaver biz a long time. People are very, very stubborn. I guess I should be happy if it changes a few minds and gives some others pause.

Oddly enough, this article does a lot of heavy lifting for the rodents but makes the decision to end on an appreciation of their anal scent glands. Hmm? Not the note I would have ended on, but the rest is wonderful so we’ll let this slide.

babyHow could you not love beavers? They are intensely social and form lifelong pairs. Each family – or colony – splits its duties: while one animal gathers
building material, another excavates the pond and yet another watches the kits (that’s a baby beaver to me and you), keeping an eye out for predators
or rival colonies.

A single family can create and maintain tens of square kilometres of water infrastructure. They thin local forests, both for building material and bark – their preferred food – and store it in underwater caches of sticks and small logs that also provide homes to baby fish.

Perhaps the beaver’s most surprising attribute is its anal scent glands. They
produce a substance called castoreum, which beavers use as a calling card.
Humans use it in perfumes and occasionally as a flavouring additive,
typically in substitutes for vanilla.

Lets give MacGregor the benefit of the doubt and lets assume that he wanted to finish the article on some grand sweeping note about beaver benefits or how society misunderstands the gift it was given, and his small minded editor in gaberdine made the article end on anal scent glands, because ew!  People will tell their friends!

Overall this is a fantastic read and just in case you want to pass it along to your friends or senators I will risk  the long arm of the law and link to it here. Shhh,

On a local note, I heard from Leslie this morning that our wayward beavers have nearly finished the tree they took down and she had fun watching them all evening. I also heard back from the grounds  keeper at the junior high that he is grateful for the information and loves nature and will keep my number handy. So that’s about the best we could hope for.

You do everything you can to raise your children right, and get the right information out there,  but at some point they go out in the world and you just have to trust things will work out.



They say a stopped clock is right twice a day…

Posted by heidi08 On October - 10 - 2016Comments Off on They say a stopped clock is right twice a day…

Sometimes folks get the details all wrong and still end up with a right answer. This article from XARALITE is one such case: they clearly dashed off this glowing piece after reading three paragraphs of the BBC Earth article without bothering to learn that this has nothing to do with the Scottish beaver trials and that these particular beavers were in fences. Well, credit for getting the theme – if not the facts.

The Return of the Eurasian Beaver

Four hundred years have passed since Britain was last home to beavers, but in 2011, the Eurasian beaver was reintroduced and now the area they’ve returned to is flourishing. In Devon lies the United Kingdom’s only beaver population; low trees and open plains provide the perfect home for the country’s largest rodents.

Prior to reintroducing the Eurasian Beaver to Britain, trials were held in Scotland to see how the beavers would cope and how they would impact the national landscape. Whilst carrying out the trials, it was found that introducing beavers would be a great way to create and maintain natural habitats. Their dams hold great bodies of water, incredibly useful for other animals too during periods of drought. Their creations also aid the quality of water and prevent flooding by holding back silt, preventing it from travelling into and disturbing other water bodies.

You know how sometimes in archeology they describe finding a fragment and make inferences about the larger artifact it represented? Like bone or pottery? Well. I’d call this an ‘article fragment’ because it literally reads like the author was attacked by bears in the middle of a sentence and couldn’t complete the thougt. But for a brief moment it gets the central idea across: Beavers make and sustain habitat.

Period. End of sentence.

Now here’s a beaver enjoying the habitat in Martinez made available to him or her by our friends at Mountain View Sanitation .  They are using night cameras to track the otter population for the river otter folk but a couple nights ago they got something even better. This is not one of the local beavers in Alhambra Creek.

MVSD is just on the other side of 680 and a fairly circuitous water route up an inlet from the Carquinez strait. Our original beavers were likely the progeny of theirs, at least our original mom who was the only one to ever build and maintain a formal lodge like the ones they boasted in the middle of the ponds out there. Maybe this is a distant cousin or a grand niece or something.

Thanks to Kelly Davidson who shared it with us and gave me permission to post it here!


Otterly Inspirational

Posted by heidi08 On September - 28 - 20161 COMMENT

So here’s the scoop on Ranger Rick. I heard yesterday from Brock Dolman of the OAEC and he said that they were contacted for a short piece about beavers and drought in California. I also heard from Suzi Eszterhas that our beaver article won’t be until next summer. So yes, beavers will be in RR next month, but only a little story and not our big 8-page story, which will still come next June or July.

Yesterday Rickipedia included me in an email discussion he is having with the authors of this book who are consulting him about how to research the historic prevalence of beaver in the Santa Cruz River.

Seems there aren’t many remains there either. And we’re surprised that beaver bones didn’t survive in waterways 170 years after being burned and discarded? How many fish bones did the archeologists find? Or otter bones?

Speaking of otters, there’s a really wonderful piece in the October issue of Bay Nature that features our friends at the River Otter Ecology Project and their work to document population dynamics.

After Decades Away, River Otters Make a Triumphant Return to the Bay Area

We’re peering down into a ravine carved out by Lagunitas Creek, looking for North American river otters. According to official California Department of Fish and Wildlife records, last updated in 1995, we are officially fools; there are no otters anywhere near here. They are “non-occurring,” wiped out from most of the Bay Area long ago by trapping, pollution, lack of prey, loss of habitat—any and all of the difficulties that wild animals contend with in urban areas.

But according to the data collected in the last four years by Megan Isadore and her corps of citizen otter spotters, these little fish-eating predators are all over the place, particularly here in Marin County. On the website of her small nonprofit River Otter Ecology Project, the reports of sightings pour in, from anglers and dog-walkers and nature lovers and amazed suburbanites: Hey, I just saw an otter! As of 2016, ROEP has catalogued more than 1,730 sightings and added to that tally close to 5,000 camera-trap videos and photos and roughly 1,300 samples of otter scat.

The fact that otters are back in the Bay Area of their own accord without any reintroduction program to help them looks like a reason to declare victory. It seems to be proof that cleaning up watersheds makes a difference, that restoration works, that species will bounce back if we only push hard enough. “Their recovery in the Bay Area is, I believe, the result of conservation and restoration activities: the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, all these things we

ROEP now counts otters in two ways. Anyone can report an otter sighting online by providing enough details to rule out mistakes. But that only tells you where otters are. In order to get other dimensions of information—what they’re doing, what their niche might be—the group also trains and sends out volunteers who visit specific field sites weekly throughout the summer and early fall, when mothers have brought their new pups out from their dens and most other otters tend to stay put in their territories. Using an app designed to capture otter data, volunteers record the locations of signs (latrines, paw prints, tail drag marks, slides, dens), maintain motion-activated camera traps, and review the footage to document family life and behavior. (The cameras have caught other creatures too: bobcats, a badger, a merlin, baby foxes, and once a woman skinny-dipping.)

Isadore sees otters as a way in to understanding relationships between other things—how otter prey like the endangered coho rise and fall, whether local improvements in water quality outweigh the new pressures of climate change for otters. meganAs an animal that relies on land and water, fish and fowl, it’s a species that can tie a lot together.

That’s how it works, Isadore says later: Efforts have ripples and consequences that you never anticipate. By showing a high-school student a video, you might awaken an interest in art and environment. By cleaning up a watershed, you just might find yourself surrounded by otters. “I want people to understand we have the ability to work for positive effects, as well as [have] the negative effects,” she says. “I want people to believe we have the ability to change things. That’s what I’m constantly trying to get across.”

Great work team Megan! We really didn’t realize otters were missing because we always saw them on our canoe trips (in Mendocino county) or at Jon’s work (On the Delta). This is really an outstanding and well-written article to promote your remarkable work and be inspirational to others who want to start citizen science of their own. We’re proud to say we knew you when. This is great promotion for ROEP and otters, and should help drive attention (and funding) your way. I personally am thrilled that otters can serve as the ambassadors to our creeks systems and get folks thinking of water health.

I may have ulterior motives.

(Mind you…the Martinez Beavers only merited a single page BN article after being missing from the entire bay area for 150 years and never got mentioned again even though we  did publish ground-breaking research on historic prevalence and start a festival that has 2000 attendees, and win the John Muir Conservation education award (a year after you), complete a mural and get added to the congressional record, but never mind.)

I’m not jealous.  Why do you ask?

Avoiding a beaverless state

Posted by heidi08 On September - 27 - 2016Comments Off on Avoiding a beaverless state

There are a few things to catch up on before they get away from me. First is that I was contacted by Enviormental writer Ben Goldfarb a few weeks ago who said he was writing a book about beavers for Chelsea Green Publishing and wanted to talk about the Martinez beaver story. If his name seems vaguely familiar it’s because he was the author of several important beaver articles in High Country News recently – the major one being “The Beaver Whisperer” about Kent Woodruff and the Methow project. Kent told him he should talk to me next, and we had a great chat about our story and the response we saw in the creek when the beavers moved in. He’s in the early stages of the book so we won’t get to enjoy it for ages, but I left him with a long list of people to talk to next and he was happy.

Meanwhile our eager Ranger Rick readers, waiting for their beaver story, saw an interesting clue at the end of their September issue. It started with a riddle about a beaver dam that they said would be answered next month and ended with this:captureoct-2016-adv-194x149


So does that mean we’ll see our beavers in the next issue? I don’t know. The last thing I heard from Suzi is that the issue would come next summer. But who knows? Maybe we’ll get a surprise or maybe we’ll get beavers TWICE in Ranger Rick!

And speaking of beavers fixing drought in California, here’s a result of not letting them that’s been on my mind lately. My parents lost 18 trees to the bark beetle but looking at this film I realize they are getting off lucky so far. The words Forest Succession echoing. I knew it was bad but I didn’t know it was this bad.

Here’s some of our damage:

Animal Attraction

Posted by heidi08 On September - 26 - 2016Comments Off on Animal Attraction

Another Monday has come with no kits yet to celebrate. I thought I’d share the video that raised my hopes. This was shot by Moses Silva the night of June 11 this year. The female emerges from a bank hole, is followed by the male and then they mate. I just noticed the vocalizations in this so turn your sound WAY UP if you want to be amazed with me. I think the female calls to him first, sounding almost like a whale, and when he follows you hear another grunting  (I think) male voice while they mate. It’s interesting to me because of that female invitation, which I don’t think has ever been written about. The sound occurs about 2 seconds in. I showed it to Bernie Krause when I heard it and he was interested, but said there was too much ‘ambient noise’ to really focus on.

Sheesh! It’s Martinez!

Well, what do you think? Is that a noise mom’s making at the beginning or not? And did that mating do its job or not? In all my years of filming and watching beavers I’ve never heard them blow bubbles until this film, and it seems like they both do. Maybe its a mating thing?

Beaver gestation is supposed to be around 107 days. So counting from the 12th of June her due date would be tonight, September 26. And here’s how weirdly synced am I, I didn’t know for sure her date until I just counted out the days with a calendar. That sure explains why she still looked huge in that last video. We don’t usually see the kits for the first three or four weeks, so when I get back from vacation they should be visible! Keep an eye out for me will you?

Assuming they exist.

Now, here’s something special just in case that sexy beaver footage got you in the mood.

D. S. & Durga HYLNDS Free Trapper (2016)

Brooklyn-based artisan perfumers D.S. & Durga released a new fragrance composition under their newer sub-label HYLNDS (pronounced « Highlands »). It is called Free Trapper, a throwback scent to the era of frontier people and the fur trade that was a magnet for adventurers in search of riches in the wilds…

« Beaver trappers were the cowboys of early America. Renegade mountaineers of the Jacksonian era who cut trails through the wild in search of beaver pelts – prized by hatters, doctors, & perfumers. »

The result is what looks on paper to be a dark, aromatic and animalic scent featuring notes of dark cedar, snake root, synthetic beaver castor, and wild bergamot.

That’s right. Now YOU TOO can smell like a beaver. Or a trapper. Take your pick. (I guess it depends on if you’re a top or a bottom.) All those years when I wrote about the barely-latent sexual admiration modern society has for trappers, you thought I was exaggerating. HA! Here’s the proof. A fairly expensive perfume that reminds the nose of the fur trade. Knowing how important the smell of castoreum was to the success of beaver trapping, makes this particularly horrible. I’m thinking this would be my reaction to the perfume:


Another work of Art

Posted by heidi08 On September - 21 - 2016Comments Off on Another work of Art

A while ago I was contacted by ‘Voices of Wildlife’ in New Hampshire. They were having some beaver issues and wanted help educating the public. I told them that a fantastic supporter lived right near by and introduced them to Art Wolinsky. They arranged an education event at the public library last night. And Art stepped up to the job boldly. Not only did the retired engineer prepare a wonderful multimedia presentation at a moments notice, he also arranged to film it so it could be shown in other venues around the state.  Oh, and my FB friend who was there tells me his last line was ‘Happy Birthday, Heidi”. Which is honestly beyond touching.



A multimedia presentation, by Art Wolinsky and Voices of Wildlife in NH, about how to derive the benefits of beaver created habitat while eliminating conflict and negative impact.

When beavers began threatening the culverts at Art’s condo in 2009 he reached out to the experts who helped him and the other residents create solutions to live peacefully with the beavers. They ended up with a win-win for all involved.

Learn how this was achieved by attending this free and open to the public event. Contact with any questions.

Art is also putting his film on youtube and I can’t wait for the chance to share it with you! Just another example of beautiful Art work!

Now as it was my birthday yesterday I tried to only do the things I wanted and allowed myself to play with a very silly tool on my iPad that I had never really used  before. How fun is this?

Magic Mornings

Posted by heidi08 On September - 14 - 20161 COMMENT

This is a magical article from Michael Runtz of canada speaking about his recent visit to an Algonquin beaver pond.

A day of nature revelations

It was a cool and misty predawn when I arrived at Algonquin Park’s Argue Lake. Soon I was watching a large Beaver groom itself atop a feeding bed a mere 30 feet away. It was too dark for photographs but I was content just to watch.

Suddenly the silence was broken by the howls of wolves, emanating somewhere near the far end of the lake. I waited a few minutes after the magnificent chorus ended, and then I howled. The pack replied immediately.

I wanted to wait until sunrise before looking for the wolves. Half an hour passed and then dawn broke.

I quietly paddled my canoe to the far end of the lake, still shrouded with mist. Once there, I scanned nearby slopes for wolves, but saw none. I howled from my canoe and soon the wolves replied, but to the east.

With adrenalin coursing through my body, I watched to see if one might make an appearance. Excitement peaked when two dark forms scrambled down a nearby hill. But the animals were black, and Eastern Wolves are rarely that colour.

A Beaver slapped its tail, informing me that the dark animals had entered its space. Moments later, four Otters came snorting and huffing past my canoe, sticking their heads out of the water like giant periscopes to get a better view of me.

Half an hour passed and no wolves, so I paddled back to my car. I then struck out on foot, following an old logging road that ran parallel to the lake. I walked slowly and quietly, stepping on moss whenever possible.

After a while I left the road and bushwhacked eastward, moving slowly and avoiding stepping on sticks.

Eventually I came to a large pond. After several minutes of scanning, I spotted the head of a large wolf sticking out from Bracken across the pond from me. It stared in my direction, but I was hidden.

I howled, and it stood up and walked into full view. It howled back and began to bark, an indication that it was the pack’s dominant leader telling the intruding wolf to leave their territory. I barked back, and the wolf responded even more aggressively. After several minutes of exchanging vocal affronts, the beautiful animal walked away, content that the impudent intruder was not going to cross the pond.

It has been 26 years since I last had a chance (unsuccessful) to photograph a howling wolf. Thus, I was ecstatic to finally achieve a long-standing goal.

I was also delighted over my encounter with Otters, plus getting a picture-perfect shot of a Ring-necked Duck taking off in the mist. I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming; it was indeed a morning when Nature revealed herself wonderfully to me.

Ahhh we’ve enjoyed many a magic morning at our beaver pond, though we never got to see wolves. I am sure Mr. Runtz sleep-clock is broken too, and we probably both wake up at 5 even  when we aren’t planning too. The very first beaver I ever saw was  from the front seat of this canoe where I spent many a magic morning over the past 25 years. Fate and my cerebellum have decided I don’t get to enjoy the quiet paddle anymore so you can imagine how happy I am at this arrival to my porch, under which I will be able to enjoy magic mornings on forever more.