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.
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. As 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?