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

The Martinez Beavers

Category: Video

Old bedding: Rusty Cohn

Once upon a time I was surprised to read that beaver change the rushes on their lodge floor every week or so. Mostly because that’s more than people did in the middle ages. But Rusty was lucky enough to come across the activity last evening at the beaver pond in Napa. I seem to remember that this is the time of year I saw it most often, obviously having babies muck up the place must make it dirty faster. When Rusty got to the pond last night he saw this:

Carrying in new bedding: Rusty Cohn


After watching for a while he saw a beaver gathering up some of the cattails and then swimming with them into the lodge. The original changing of the guard.

Apparently in the winter months, when there are no fresh grasses or cattails they rely on
woodchips. I’m trying to imagine

why, because it can’t be comfortable. Maybe it’s like elephants covering themselves with dust and it help keeps insects away?

Rusty Cohn

I’m not sure, but I know that  May is an EXCELLENT time for beaver watching in the bay area. Rusty has been watching the pond spring to life. And years ago it was when I was lucky enough to see this:

(The records say it was May 3rd, nearly 5 weeks before we had ever seen a kit in the evening, so you can imagine why we were so surprised!)


Sometimes life gives you little funny gifts that you don’t really deserve or expect. Yesterday’s call-in show about the horrible beaver-eatin’ program was vastly superior to the original. Owing in large part to the host Laura Knoy and to the first caller who said her beaver pond was essential fire protection for her home. Ahhh my hero. Art Wolinsky called in also and is wonderful of course. This is worth listening to if you have time. Skip Lisle does an excellent job of sounding way more reasonable than everyone else, and even the trapper isn’t horrific. I edited out the commercials and it’s a great listen.

Podcast host Sam Evans-Smith suddenly sounds soooo much more reasonable about beavers, and even wants some on his property. (Art thinks our letters over the weekend may have done some good, but who knows?) My favorite part is where Sam corners the fish and wildlife guy about how often flow devices fail and the man is left chattering nonsense about water depth admitting he wasn’t even talking about that. Good times.

And then, in compensation for all our suffering, the benevolent universe gave us a little present in the form of a beaver mystery. It happened, (Of all places) in Saskatchewan Canada where  they had the horrific beaver kill-derby last year. I’m not surprised. Apparently even the cattle are scared of beavers up there.wrangler

Sask. ranchers stunned as beaver herds 150 cattle

Saskatchewan rancher Adrienne Ivey may have heard of a beaver, but until now, had never seen a beaver herd. Cattle, that is.

On Friday, Ivey and her husband were surprised to see 150 of their heifers crowded together in one of their pastures. Curious about the strange behaviour, they investigated further, to find the herd of cattle following a beaver that had wandered along.

“He was out and about, I think looking for a new place to build a beaver lodge, and they were following him,” Ivey said. “There was about a three-foot space around him. They didn’t want to get closer than that.”

According to Ivey, heifers, young cows that haven’t had a calf before, are more inquisitive than the average bovine, which may have led to the cows following the beaver.

“They’re a curious bunch,” she said. “They’re kind of like teenagers. And I think they were following this thing around because they couldn’t figure out what the heck it was.”

Ivey thought the odd event was even more notable considering the beaver is Canada’s national symbol.”We just thought this was so funny and so Canadian,” she said. “A Canadian beaver leading around a bunch of Canadian cattle just makes it even more funny.”

This is the kind of story that would be SO MUCH BETTER with video. But never fear, because I have a treasure that is going to make all of your pain and suffering fade away. Don’t say I never did anything for you. Behold the beaver wrangler!

I think these cows read that Belarus disperser story and are all terrified of him!

I  know folks might worry, but I’m just going to assume that the cows stayed this well, cowed as long as it took for the beaver to get where he was going because we’re talking about Saskatchewan and you know if they suddenly trampled him to death the ranchers would be way too excited and posting that video everywhere online. Mostly I just love this video because it soundly demonstrates how very much smarter beavers are than cows. You can’t exactly say they look up to him.

Maybe it’s the calendar but I’m suddenly reminded me of this favorite moment from the Life of Brian.

I know it’s not Sunday but there’s plenty of good beaver news to go around. Starting with this article from Muskoka in Ontario, Canada. It is nicely written by Andrew Hind, who obviously has come to appreciate our flat-tailed friend.

Muskoka beavers build a healthier environment

Despite being a Canadian icon and a symbol of industriousness, many people view the beaver as a nuisance animal, blaming them for flooding and for damaging property through the felling of trees. Any derision towards the beaver, which generally is misplaced and based more upon myth than reality, masks the absolutely vital role beavers plays in creating a healthy environment – especially in areas with lots of wilderness and wildlife, like Muskoka. 

Beavers spend much of their life building and maintaining dams that hold back the water and create the ponds in which they live. What most people fail to realize is that the beaver is not the only one to benefit from the habitat it creates.  

The contributions made by beavers, perhaps nature’s most industrious animals, are more profound than most people realize. They are not the nuisance they are so often made out to be, but rather our partners in preserving the health of our planet Earth.BEAVER_chews-b2-Robin_Tapley___Gallery

“The beaver is the largest rodent in North America and it has been commonly known as ‘nature’s-engineers’ because of what they do for the environment,” explains Muskoka naturalist Robin Tapley. “A beaver is the only other mammal besides man that alters its environment to suit its living requirements. However, in the case of the beaver, its contribution has a positive impact on the local flora and fauna and this greatly increases the biodiversity in an ever-shrinking natural world. Science has demonstrated that the result of a single dam has increased the number of birds, reptiles, mammals as large as deer and bears, and plant life in areas modified by beavers.”  

Are you smiling yet? This is a ‘second cup of coffee’ kind of read and a great way to start the weekend.   What I love about an article like this is the fact that you can tell right away it’s going to be good. And you are just curious how good?

Dave McLachlin, a biologist for Ducks Unlimited, enthusiastically agrees. “Beavers are what we call a ‘keystone species. Without them we would witness a collapse of the ecosystem. The wetlands that beavers help create are the most productive environment we have in Canada.”

Beaver ponds not only create biodiversity, but also help with local flood control, reduction of water turbidity, the filtration of herbicides and pesticides, and – eventually – the creation of fertile bottomland.

To understand the importance of the beaver pond to the local system we need to understand more about the life cycle of these ponds. 

Some people view the appearance of a dam in a stream almost as a sign of rodent infestation, a nuisance that needs to be removed. Many even believe that the dam and the pond it creates will eventually lead to destructive flooding downstream. Tapley bristles at the notion that the appearance of a beaver dam is a blight on the environment.

“A beaver dam is a complex structure designed specifically to slow the flow of water in a stream that results in creating a pond or wetland. Unfortunately, in the eyes of humans, flooded lands and fallen trees (specifically aspens, which is the tree of choice for beavers) appear to be an attack on the land. However, this is far from reality. The stumps grow new shoots which are a favoured food of moose and white tail deer, snags or dead standing trees become prime nesting locations for cavity nesters, including woodpeckers, wood ducks and mergansers, and the resulting wetlands offer increased habitat for insects, amphibians and reptiles, osprey, blue herons, mind and more – in fact, 85 per cent of all North American fauna rely on wetlands,” he explains.

Beaver dams, he explains, do not cause flooding – just the opposite. They help control the flow of water in the surrounding area, facilitating flood control in times of high water and also help maintain a stable water table, making streams, ponds and marshes less vulnerable to drought.

Give it up for Dave from Ducks Unlimited! He clearly understand beaver benefits and the good they do. The article goes on to take a little detour from accuracy describing how the “male beavers disperse for long distances looking to start their own family”. (Which of course would never be possible for heterosexual beavers unless the females did it too.) But never mind that Dietland Muller Swarze wrote that beavers were very unusual in that the female disperers went farther than the males. (The only other animal where girls go farther is porcupines, which is just the kind of odd fact that stays in my brain.) Dave gets the important bits right on the money.

The sediment and debris captured within the pond settle to the bottom, making for better turbidity and allowing for a huge variety of protozoan and insect life. Turtles, fish, and bullfrogs and fish love these deeper waters. Larger snakes begin to arrive, taking advantage of the abundance of frogs. The grassy areas around the edges of the pond, meanwhile, make for ideal nesting habitat for waterfowl, such as ducks and Canada Geese. These same grassy areas are attractive to small rodents, which are in turn prey for marsh hawks and foxes. In just a short period of time an amazing diversity of wildlife calls the beaver pond home.

The heightened wildlife activity centred on the beaver pond confirms its importance in biodiversity and maintenance of wetlands. In fact, Ducks Unlimited, which has a mandate to protect duck populations, recognizes the value of working with beavers to restore wetlands and the symbiotic relationship between healthy duck and beaver populations. 

“The habitat resulting from beaver activity is tremendous. Not only do so many species depend on it for food, shelter and breeding grounds but research has shown that bacteria attracted to a mature beaver pond helps remove nutrients (phosphates and nitrates) contained in the runoff from nearby farms, making for cleaner water. Herbicides and pesticides are also removed in a similar way,” notes McLachlin. 

Beaver ponds are cyclical, however, and come and go. “Eventually the beavers move on and the dam breaks down, draining the water and leaving behind an extremely lush meadow and the cycle begins all over again,” explains Tapley. 

And yet the one-time pond continues to pay rich dividends for the environment. The meadow – its soil consisting of muck that sat submerged on the pond’s bottom – is rich in nutrients and provides fertile ground for seed blown upon the winds. As a result, it doesn’t take long before there is enough lush vegetation for deer to begin grazing. Tree seedlings soon take hold. In about 15 more years a beaver meadow has formed. If left undisturbed, the area is likely to once again play host to beavers once trees have matured to about 10 centimetres in diameter. 

Early Muskoka farmers appreciated the value of these rich bottomlands and cultivated them for raising crops. They reaped the bounty of more than a decade of labour by a colony of beavers. 

So not only do beavers benefit all that wildlife when they’re actually in residence, when the pond  silts up and is abandoned, the soil they leave behind is the rich loam farmers love best. And in between making ideal grow conditions and removing nitrogen beaver dams also prevent flooding. Are you sold yet? It’s wonderful to see an article like this appear out of nowhere. I usually hear something in the pipeline along the way, but this was a completely un-looked-for blessing. Go read the whole thing so Mr. Hind is reminded that folks care about beavers.

And late breaking I was just sent this by writer Ben Goldfarb who will  be meeting with doctoral student Dan Kotter in Yellowstone to discuss his research. Here’s what the trail cam picked up recently, and check out Mr. Wolf at .41. Those beavers do not even trouble their pretty little (dry!) heads about him.

Plenty to do! And they’re just the critter to do it!

And it should be, it should be
it SHOULD be like that
Because Horton was faithful,
he sat, and he sat.
And he meant what he said,
and he said what he meant,
and they sent him home happy

17155288_1478257578874575_810547422819226512_nFor some reason this sprang to mind with what I’m about to share. This was taken Sunday evening looking towards town from the Granger’s Wharf Bridge over Alhambra Creek. The beaver (BEAVER!) came in from the strait and headed upstream. It was sent to me by Brendon  A. Chapman, who I don’t believe I ever met. If you turn the sound UP you can hear him say my name while he’s filming it. Because obviously  you’d tell Heidi about this. Why wouldn’t you?

Another resident who walks everyday at the Marina, Bill Nichols, said he saw a beaver in a side channel at Granger’s wharf this very morning. And you can just GUESS where we’ll be tonight keeping an eye out.  Does this mean our upstream beavers have moved down? I wish they had but I’m not sure.  That beaver Brendon watched was coming IN from the strait at an odd hour to be a resident – since our beavers usually start in the creek in the evening and go OUT towards the strait at night to feed…. But who knows, maybe the weird weather on Sunday flushed him out of where ever he was living? And maybe the fact that a beaver was seen this morning is a sign that they’re moving back?

Or maybe it’s another beaver entirely? Looking for a new place to settle down and turn Martinez into a veritable Beaver City! Or maybe it’s an old family member looking to visit the ‘hood where he grew up?  Could be? Who knows?  The possibilities are endless!

Major beaver victory in Ontario, Canada this morning:

Hamilton Conservation Authority creates new protocol to let Fifty Point beavers be

A new protocol for dealing with wildlife conflicts at local conservation areas will leave beavers at Fifty Point alone unless they wreak major havoc.

 Set to go to Hamilton Conservation Authority directors for approval in May, the protocol only allows lethal trapping as a last resort in cases where beavers are a significant threat to health and safety, property or the natural environment.

 Directors placed a moratorium on lethal trapping last May after a Fifty Point neighbour’s discovery of a dead muskrat and injured snapping turtle in two beaver traps in the park’s trout pond created a public outcry.

He said if beavers aren’t creating an immediate flood risk, park staff will simply monitor their impact and if necessary consider habitat modifications, like fencing trees and modifying culverts so they can’t be blocked.

 If beavers have built a dam that is a flood threat, depending on the situation the authority may remove it or try less intrusive measures, like installing a flow device to restore normal water levels, the told the authority’s conservation advisory board.

 “Humane, lethal trapping is the last resort if you’ve got acute significant issues and the other approaches you’ve tried are not successful,” Stone said. “Generally, our preference is to leave wildlife alone.”

Go Hamilton! Fifty Point is an actual place, for a while I was reading this headline as if it meant fifty beavers at point! I had to hunt all over to find who’s responsible for this bit of beaver magic, but it turns out Hamilton is the home town of the Digital Director of content and the voice behind the radio at Fur Bearer Defenders, Michael Howie. So I’m not at all surprised they could will this into happening. Here’s their article on the victory.

The issue arose last year when a resident was out for a walk and came across a muskrat and an at-risk snapping turtle in beaver traps. The Fur-Bearers (and our wonderful supporters) spoke with the media, the Conservation Authority, and local politicians about non-lethal solutions following that news; it would appear the decision makers liked what they heard.

image1Last night I received the completely unexpected request for photo use from Demitrios Kouzios, a dedicated Cubs fan from Chicago who said he tweeted a beaver picture from our website and wanted to pay for its use. The photo was this, (hahaha) which I replied wasn’t ours, wasn’t a beaver and wasn’t even alive. Which he was thrilled to hear. He thanked me heartily and this morning donated $100 to Worth A Dam! Go Cubs!

Then Robin of Napa pointed me to  me this article on wildlife and traffic in the chronicle, reporting a study by the very group we featured this week. It also tells you where the danger spots are here in the Bay Area.

Mapping roadkill hot spots across a bloody state

Californians, with their famous love of the highway, tend to run over a lot of animals — raccoons, deer, desert iguana. But the danger for road-crossing critters may be rising with the drought.

A UC Davis study released Wednesday, which seeks to promote safety for both wildlife and motorists, identifies stretches of California asphalt where the most animals have been hit — and where more are likely to die in the baking sun as they extend their ranges in search of water.

CaptureFinally, in case you forgot to watch Nature last night there was unbelievably adorable footage of beaver kits in the lodge in winter. You will miss out on something truly special if you don’t go watch it right now. Beavers appear at the beginning and the end (the Alpha and the Omega as it were) but it’s all good. Ann Prum did a great job, although not better than our friend Jari Osborne who was prescient enough to just focus on beavers! Enjoy!

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
Merchant of Venice, ACT IV: Scene 1