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

The Martinez Beavers

Category: History


Vermont has a complex relationship with wildlife. It is home of some of the most progressive beaver management on the east coast and still gives into its hunters and trappers way more freedom than many folks are comfortable with. This article is a nice look at that complexity, I would love to see similar photos about our history in California. Go look at the photos at least. It’s a walk through that part of history that is surprising to remember.

History Space: Vermont’s great outdoors

The cold night air and departure of colorful leaves are sure signs that another autumn has taken hold in Vermont. This is the time of year when nature has been on full display.

This teeming abundance wasn’t always typical of Vermont. The state’s forested hillsides and landscape flourishing with wildlife represents a relatively recent recovery in the last few decades following centuries of unregulated habitat destruction and species loss. Vermont’s rich wildlife heritage was once in jeopardy of being lost forever, and faces many new challenges today and in the future.

“The search for beaver drove the exploration of New England,” said wildlife biologist Kim Royar, a 35-year veteran with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, who has focused on mid-sized mammals from beavers to bobcats.

“Felted hats made from beaver fur were highly fashionable in London at the time, and centuries of over-harvest of wildlife in Europe as well as destruction of forests and wetlands on the continent had driven beavers and many other species there to the brink of extinction,” Royar said.

Despite an estimated 200 million beavers in North America prior to European settlement, the region’s supply of wildlife was limited. By the 1670s, nearly a quarter million beaver had been shipped from the Connecticut River Valley to London, and fur trappers complained that the species had become scarce in the region. By the turn of the 17th century, beavers were thought to have become completely extinct in what is now Vermont due to unregulated trapping.

Royar said that the loss of beavers was especially difficult for the many species that rely on the wetlands they create, such as moose, otter, mink, turtles, salamanders, and the waterfowl and songbirds that nest in these wetlands and meadows.

“Beavers are the architects of the landscape, creating a dense network of wetlands used by a wide variety of wildlife,” said Royar. “Once a beaver uses up all the resources around the pond, they move along, allowing the dam to slowly disintegrate and the former pond to transition to grasslands, which creates another stage of incredibly important wildlife habitat. Given that some valley areas of Vermont may have had as many as 300 beaver dams per square mile, the loss of beavers was a devastating blow to the wildlife of Vermont and represented a dramatic change to the state’s landscape.”

It wasn’t just California that was cleaned out of beavers. The decimation of the beaver population happened all over the northern hemisphere and must have left a drier bleaker continent. We just happened to be the last on the list because we were the hardest to get to. It’s stunning to me to think about the individual players all across the united states that started thinking this should be undone at about the same time. Was it the influence of Roosevelt? Emerson? Muir? Or some big inspiring meeting that got everything thinking differently? Fortunately for Vermont, there were some eco-concious players in the 2oth century that made a difference.

Simultaneously, Vermonters were becoming concerned over the continuing destruction of the landscape and streams. The nascent environmental movement, influenced by writers such as Vermonter George Perkins Marsh, as well as Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman, and conservationists Muir and Roosevelt, spawned the creation of a Board of Fish Commissioners in 1866 to protect brook trout and clean up the waterways. The first game warden force was established in 1904 to protect deer and other game species from overharvest.

n 1921, biologists trapped six beavers at Old Forge, New York and released them in Bennington County. In a little more than two decades, the beaver population rose to more than 8,000 in Vermont. (Photo: Courtesy Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department)

During that period, 17 white-tailed deer were brought from New York state in 1878 and stocked in southwestern Vermont. By the 1950s the deer population had exploded in Vermont. Since then, improved game management techniques, including science-based hunting seasons and bag limits, eventually led to a more stable and healthy deer herd

In 1921, biologists from the newly formed Fish and Game Service — a precursor to the modern Fish & Wildlife Department — reintroduced beavers to Vermont. Within two decades, the beaver population had soared to more than 8,000 statewide, building dams and often coming into conflict with people.

“Beavers returned to Vermont after being absent for more than two centuries,” says Royar. “In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of people had moved in, constructing roads and buildings in the valley bottoms and along riverbanks that had previously been beaver habitat. Beavers naturally attempted to reflood these areas, creating a cycle of conflict with people and their property that continues to this day.”

Just imagine for a moment if they had NEVER reintroduced beavers in Vermont. Aside from all the fish and wildlife populations that wouldn’t have recovered, Skip Lisle would never have tried to protect his grandfather’s land with some fence posts and never invented the beaver deceiver! Which means he never would have come to California and the Martinez beavers would have been killed. I wouldn’t have started Worth A Dam and you wouldn’t have been reading this website!

It’s like the entire nation watched  what amounted to a “beaver-version” of “It’s a wonderful life” some where in the 1900’s and were rightly terrified by the thought of what the world would look like without beavers. Guardian angels like ‘Terrence’ in every state showed the horrors and then made their recovery possible. And all of America suddenly ‘woke up’ as if from a beaverless dream. Somewhere there is a list of reasons WHY beavers introduced beavers in 1921 that I would like to see. It probably describes fish habitat, water storage and wildlife populations and represents all the hard-won jewels of wisdom we forgot over the years.

I think reintroducing beavers is like having children. You have to do it fast while you’re young and foolish. If you wait until you’re smart enough to know all the disadvantages and things that could go wrong it will probably never happen.


There are very few advantages to the thankless job of writing about beavers every day – (I mean there isn’t free beaver merchandise given at conferences, or drinks on the road with the team, or eager secretaries wanting to make a good impression) -there aren’t what you’d call “Perks”.

But there is  this: which apparently even the multi-million Canadian Broadcasting Corportation cannot boast:

A sense of HISTORY and the ability to see when things happen over again and again.

Rural Sask. municipalities look to solve big beaver problem

Beavers are burdening rural areas of the province, and now the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities is looking for solutions — including the restoration of funding for a program cut in the last provincial budget.

Beaver numbers have boomed to a point of overpopulation and the critters have been destroying infrastructure, according to several municipalities. At the association’s midterm convention in Regina on Tuesday and Wednesday, two of the matters on the agenda touched on the nuisance beavers are creating in rural areas.

“Problem beavers” and the structures they build can lead to road and property flooding, according to the SARM website. In response, the association created a beaver steering committee, representing a coalition of rural municipalities, associations and government.

Now doesn’t the article make it seem like this is a brand new solution that will tackle the problem in a brand new way and rid the poor folks once and for all of these pesky beavers? Except for I wrote about SARM and its coalition of 16th century tools to tackle the ‘exploding beaver population’ back in 2011. In fact, that column had some of my earliest graphics that still make me smile fondly today.

“Exploding beavers? Now that does sound dangerous! No wonder you found 500,000 to fight it! I guess America has seen shoe bombs and underwear bombs in the last few years, so why NOT an exploding beaver! It’s insidious!

Ohh. I just received a wire from the Ministry of Dangling Participles clarifying that the population of beavers has exploded, not the beavers themselves.  Whew. That’s a relief! I was going for my beaver-proof vest. I’m curious though, how do you know the population has exploded? I mean when is the last time you did a regional count and how do you know the numbers have increased?”

Funny thing about Beaver trapping. When governments rush in to take out massive groups of beavers,  populations have a way of recovering. In fact they often rebound, with more food available for fewer beavers and female caloric intake increasing so that brood size increases. You end up doing the same thing all over again in 1-2 years.

Hopefully you set aside another 500,000 dollars to take care of that problem?

Ahhh, I was so young and naive in those days. I actually thought Saskatchewan could be shamed into fixing their beaver problems with reasonable and proven techniques. Silly, silly girl. What did I know? I didn’t realize that they were the MOST BACKWARD and BRAZEN region on the entire planet when it comes to beaver management. They had the infamous kill contest two years ago that resulted in terrible press for the entire region. Literally hundreds of beavers were killed. And it didn’t help.

CBC might act like this is a “NEW” problem. But we here at beaver central know better.

In response, the association created a beaver steering committee, representing a coalition of rural municipalities, associations and government. At its conference, the association tabled a resolution calling for the restoration of funding for the Beaver Management in Provincial Parks program, which was cut from this year’s budget.

It also called for a special permit to control nuisance wildlife within a specific distance of threatened fields or infrastructure. SARM hopes the government will restore funding for the beaver management program in the 2018-2019 budget. It also called for a special permit to control nuisance wildlife within a specific distance of threatened fields or infrastructure.

Good luck convincing folks to spend money and not solve the problem again. I’m sure you’ll get it.  I mean someday they’ll probably realize that the amount they have been spending over and over again has been useless. Some bored intern will crack open the budget book for the last 20 years and realize how much money they’ve handed you  to throw away  over the years and  someone with a brain will demand actual accountability for the contract.

But don’t worry,  I’m sure that day won’t come anytime soon.


 

Speaking of young naive things that have zero idea what’s ahead of them, It seems like a good time to mention that today is our 32nd anniversary of wedded bliss. Who would allow these children to be married? What on earth were those foolish babies thinking?

Happy Anniversary Jon!

babes


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

Whew, I was relieved to hear that Mike Callahan (whose WIFE is a trapper) had never heard about using a cross-bow either to shoot unwanted beavers either. So that means this is just a one-off until we hear otherwise. (A horrible one-off but better than  a common occurrence.)

Meanwhile, I received a note from author Ben Goldfarb yesterday that his writing retreat is going well and that he will have the first draft of his beaver book in November! How exciting! And I heard from Tom Rusert that their home didn’t burn down, their beloved bulldog Daisy is recovering from smoke inhalation, and things are moving forward.  There was an excellent article in the East Bay Times and Fire Rescue about our good friend Luigi feeding the first responders last week, which surprises me not at all. That man has been incredibly community-oriented since before he even had a community.

Calif. deli owner feeds first responders in Calif. wildfires Capture

MARTINEZ, Calif. —Luigi Daberdaku has been making sandwiches at his downtown deli for years, but never this many all at once.

Since Thursday, there’s been an assembly line set up in his shop, right near the shelves with the specialty sodas. “Cutting the meat, cheese, lettuce, onions, cucumbers, I need volunteers… plus I need more meat; we ran out of meat today after 275 sandwiches,” Daberdaku said Monday.

By that afternoon, as he prepared to make his fifth delivery trip, he and his assembled teams had made almost 1,500 sandwiches. It started Thursday, Oct. 12, when he and volunteers made 150 sandwiches by midday. He took them to Fairfield that first day for further distribution; since then, he has gone straight to the hard-hit areas, mostly in Napa, himself.

Dear, sweet Luigi, you deserve all the credit you get. I recall he had barely set up shop downtown at the November 2007 beaver meeting ten years ago, when he stood up with his very thick Albanian accent and said “When I first come to Martinez there was no one downtown. It was like a ghost town! And now that the beavers have come there are many, many people every day!” He has been our friend since the beginning, and his wonderful daughter Louisa planted trees, worked the festival and brought us sandwiches every year.  Helping first responders is just the kind of thing he’d do.

(Let’s hope that sweet steady rain we got last night helped them too.)

Yesterday the National Geographic Blog called Cool Green Science decided that beavers deserve a little credit also. Of course they couldn’t resist reminiscing on Idaho throwing them from planes – but this is a pretty nice summary. Watch the video all the way through.

Restoring Beavers by Plane and Automobile

“Beavers are really nature’s engineers and they do a really good job at what they do,” says James Brower, Idaho Department of Fish and Game volunteer services coordinator. “We love beaver and we love what beaver do.”

“We really want them to set up shop and transform that habitat and make it a little better for everything,” Brower says. “Beaver create habitat for not only fish but also for deer, elk, moose and bear. Pretty much everything needs water and places to drink. There’s no doubt in my mind this benefits everybody.”

I like what Mr. Brower has to say. I think I will try and make contact. But I’m never a fan of the beaver-flinging story – as I’m sure you all know by now.


original dam 2007
Original Martinez Beaver Dam 2007

Am I supposed to believe it’s October? The weather certainly does because we had soup last night and were actually cold on the back deck. But I seem to remember the beaver festival happened what seems like a minute ago. Good lord. With moving the next one to the end of June that leaves only 9 months until it all happens again. Whose crazy idea was that?

Meanwhile, I’m working hard on my upcoming webinar for Fur Bearer Defenders. The technology requires that I must use a simple PPT with no video so that means I have to put everything together from scratch.  In doing so I came across a few wonderful photos I thought I’d share. They were stored in an archaic segment of the website I didn’t even know existed, so it’s wonderful to see them again. Above is our original dam, shot looking upstream from the Marina Vista Bridge in January 2007 – before the flow device, before the controversy and before kits were ever born.

city installing
City helping Skip Lisle Install the flow device – 1-2008

I also found this nice one from when public works decided to be helpful and assist in the beaver pipe installation. I had to work that day so I have no idea who this photo belongs to. And all these were stored for safe keeping on a computer that as it happened became very unsafe so they were lost to the ages. Apparently the website used to load things to something called Apache?

skip installing lg
Skip Lisle removes dam to install flow device

I’m sure the fluttering pulses of Martinez secretaries are very happy that I found this one. It shows Skip hard at work. I believe the appreciative fans at the Gazette took a million photos of these warmer shirtless moments, such that I was privately told later that the gay editor suggested that Skip should do a calendar. But those photos  too were all lost on the photographers hard drive explosion so they are gone forever. Thanks to “Apache” and the printed version, a sample remains.

Skip gazette-001
Front Page News

Quite a walk through memory lane isn’t it? Usually when I present video I have some nice shots of beavers doing their thing around admiring humans, so I was looking for something like that among my stills. I found this wonderful photo from Suzi Eszterhas which for some reason I hadn’t seen before.  I know the faces are cute, but look to the left and see what they’re watching below the dam.  Can you believe how lucky Martinez used to be?

boys watching
Children watch beaver below dam: Suzi Eszternhas