Ten 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.
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.
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.