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

The Martinez Beavers

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Yesterday Rob Rich brought this to my attention: the newly released results of the Miistakis survey working with Cows and Fish to learn about attitudes towards beavers in Alberta are available. It’s a fairly interesting read, even if you aren’t a psychologist.

With a large number of respondents (N=639) they were careful in how they included and presented questions.  Nearly 70% were landowners or land managers and 40% had had beavers on their land in the past 5 years. A very small number (21%) reported having no interest in beavers on their land and more than half thought it was a good idea!

The survey also did a nice job of looking at the basic knowledge about beavers. (You’ll be pleased to know that 70% of respondents realized they did NOT eat fish.) Interestingly, what the majority didn’t know was that beaver dams don’t block fish passage and beavers don’t disperse at 6 months. I took the survey back in June of last summer and wrote on the website that I was proud to be one of their “outliers”. I also commented that there were educational aspects to the survey itself, with some questions being as close to a “Push Poll for beavers” as one could get.

I am so enormously impressed with the hard work these folks are doing, and am delighted to see the results of this survey available. I can’t wait until 100% of those surveyed want beavers on their property! Maybe they’ll be so popular that you’ll need a beaver lottery!

Still, I’m a little cautious about these result which give the appearance that we’re “nearly there” in terms of changing minds about beavers.  Years of painful statistics classes forced me to look closely at the methodology section to see how these mostly cheerful respondents were obtained. 

I hate to be the beaver party pooper but this isn’t exactly a random sample. Or even a partially randomized sample. If I used the data base of “my contacts” to ask whether beavers matter what kind of results do you suppose I would  receive? This is as much a study of how successful their messaging has been as anything else.

And based on these results I’d say fairly successful. I don’t think we’d manage these kind of numbers in MARTINEZ! Or from the city council!

It’s interesting to me that a sixth of respondents didn’t answer this question. It’s not like it was a factual question they didn’t know the answer to. Maybe it was at the end of a page? Maybe it was confusing for some reason? Obviously the cruel stats teacher in my mind would insist the question be discarded or that incomplete surveys not be included in the results.

Which is not to say that these results aren’t very very interesting and worthy of consideration. I just want folks to know that the battle isn’t over. We aren’t even at the beginning of the end.

But we might just be at the end of the beginning.

 


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There are beaver heroes in every corner of the state, and our friends at the Sierra Wildlife Coalition are a shining example. I remember the very first beaver festival they joined way back I was so impressed that they decorated their booth with chews and a sand paint demonstration. Since damage to trees is the NUMBER ONE REASON folks for trapping, teaching people about this tree-saving tool is essential.

“We just sand-painted about 50 cottonwoods today in Washoe Lake State Park in Nevada (between Reno and Carson City). Toogee was alerted about beavers chewing there, talked to State Parks (who were going to use chicken wire… I know) and they were all into it, bought paint and sand and buckets and rounded up 8 volunteers to help! It will be on the late news 9after Olympics) but already on the KRNV website 🙂

Volunteers Use “Sand Paint” to Stop Beavers from Gnawing on Trees at Washoe Lake

 

About a dozen volunteers gathered at Washoe Lake State Park Saturday morning to ‘paint’ the trees along Washoe Lake. The paint was a mixture consisting of latex paint and sand, and it’s supposed to prevent beavers from gnawing on the trees.

Park supervisor, Jen Dawson, said this was necessary because beavers have damaged 60 trees from chewing on them.

Wonderful work by some wonderful beaver friends! If you had been doing this as long as I have you would remember that this whole advocacy group began in response to beavers killed in Kings Beach, right next to an daycare that had been following the family. Sherri, Ted and friends met with countless officials and neighbors trying to push this issue to a better direction for next time. They even asked our own Lory Bruno to come to a meeting and talk about what Martinez did once upon a time.

(It is so heartening to see their work and Sherry marching on after Ted’s death last year.  It is always the wrong people that die from cancer. But you knew that.)

We checked on our own little beaver dam yesterday which is looking quite healthy. A phoebe was sitting on it to capture flies and a squirrel used it as a bridge just before Jon snapped this photo – the framing of which I particularly like.


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Sometimes in life, you find friends where you’d never expect it. Like when the designer that was helping us replace our couch found out we save beavers and donated a huge bag of leather upholstery scraps for our tail projects. Or when I was in the hospital and the night nurse recognized me from the news and said she was so happy we had saved the beavers in Martinez.

You learn that friends come in all kind of packages and you appreciate them however they’re wrapped. Which brings us to South Carolina.

Hungry beavers in Charleston suburb chow down where they shouldn’t be

Tricia Crumbley couldn’t believe it — the limbs of all four of her prized Japanese maples that canopied her ornamental waterfall pond lay on the ground around the gnawed stumps.

Chewed maple sticks were left underwater at the foot of the falls. The culprit couldn’t be more clear: beavers.

Except she lives in West Ashley’s Crescent subdivision, just off the saltwater Wappoo Cut, near brackish retention ponds fed by tides. In her 10 years there, she’s seen squirrels, opossum, raccoons and a fox. But the freshwater-loving beaver shouldn’t have been anywhere nearby.

“I just stood there with my mouth open,” she said. “I have no idea where they came from.”

;

So here’s a well-off looking woman in South Carolina with an ornamental fountain on a garden so large she needed to be told by the groundskeeper that something was eating her trees. I admit. I assumed the worst those for beavers and thought they’d not be long for this world.

“It is possible the sound of the running water (in the Crumbley’s waterfall) kicked-in a desire to dam up whatever was flowing and then once they discovered it was an ornamental pond, they turned their attention to the maples,” Butfiloski said.

Tricia Crumbley knows the beavers were doing what they are supposed to do.

“Just not here,” she preferred.

The couple didn’t try to trap their invaders. Instead, they put wire fencing around what’s left of their maples, turned off the waterfall and haven’t seen any more gnawing.

My goodness! I didn’t see that coming. To be honest, I never expected anyone in South Carolina to wrap trees, certainly not a wealthy home owner. I am so sorry misjudged you, Tricia. You are a thoughtful woman who solves problems thoughtfully.

Just in case you don’t want to see all that wire near your pond, you can also paint the threatened trees with sand paint which is less visually disruptive. I will see if I can let her know,

But as for the rumor that beavers were driven to chop down your trees because of the sound of running water- No.

Beavers were driven to chop down your trees because they were hungry.

 


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One of the things we have struggled to do here in Martinez is make our beavers more accessible, less misunderstood, and part of the community. The lion’s share of that work was done by the beavers themselves, who chose downtown for their home and lived fairly public lives showing off their habits and preferences. They were the original “Beaver ambassadors” and we just took our cue from them. We explained to people what they did and what they were seeing and doing our best to make the city not kill them.

Steven Murschel of West Linn Oregon takes it one step farther. I can’t believe this article slipped past me nearly 3 weeks ago, but I’m so glad it was brought to my attention now.

WL ‘Beaver Ambassadors’ group sheds light on misunderstood animal

It was at that point that the West Linn Beaver Ambassadors group was born. For almost a year now, Murschel and others have led activities with schools, organizations and groups of volunteers in an effort to “increase awareness for the community about the beavers that live in West Linn and why this species is so important to the natural ecosystem.” Most recently, on Jan. 11, Murschel led educational workshops with two classrooms at Willamette Primary.

“I work with schools a lot,” Murschel said. “And I’m doing a lot of community events so that the community is more aware of the beaver population and the incredible benefits beavers can provide”

West Linn’s beavers — which have made homes at Mary S. Young Park as well as the Willamette, Robinwood and Fields Bridge parks — are behaviorally nocturnal and thus rarely seen out in the open. But their handiwork is abundant, and it takes just a short walk along the paths at Mary S. Young Park to see several beaver-made ponds sheltered by dams and surrounded by trees that have been caged to prevent further gnawing.

Steven takes his work serious and is making a serious difference. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for EBRP, for example, to have a beaver educator on board to educate folks in every park about the animal. Steven came to the festival last year and will be an exhibitor at the event this year. (If you needed further proof about the role the story of Martinez played in his work check out the photo in the presentation he is giving to that classroom. It might look familiar.)

Very short beavers in WL?

“When they build the dam, the creek flowing through gets stocked up,” Murschel said. “Instead of a creek, you have a pond, and a pond is an excellent drinking source, so it will bring larger mammals for drinking. It’s a home for reptiles and amphibians and also for insects and smaller bugs — macroinvertebrates.

“When the smaller things start to come as a result of the slow of flow, then everything that eats those things comes, and everything that eats those things comes.”

In rainy Oregon, beavers also do their part to prevent flooding, according to Murschel. He compared beaver dams to the man-made bioswales and rain gardens that have become popular solutions for water runoff.

“People tend to think beavers cause a lot of flooding,” he said. “Flooding problems definitely happen, but in a bigger sense they’re holding back more water; they’re containing more water.”

Steven  gets pretty excited about his work with kids, teaching them why beavers matter. He’s happy to share his ideas and is ready to learn from everyone. This is what it says about us on his website. Sometimes I like to imagine what it would be liked if he worked for Martinez and was hired to manage their beaver ambassador program. Then I break out into a hysteric fit of giggles and have to lie down.

“What we’re really trying to do is bring a lot of awareness to the fact that beavers are back, and we have these rare opportunities in some of our parks to showcase what they do,” Worcester said. “People — especially kids — are really interested … and we’re doing more outreach and some nighttime programs to kind of see beavers in different parks.”

I”I want to build in some mechanisms to have it continue in perpetuity,” he said. “And how you do this is certainly a challenge. But the website and all of the social media will certainly be there, so maybe they can continue to have interns work on it at a lower capacity.

“What they’ll definitely get out of it are management plans for this site and a couple of other sites in the city where beavers have impacted massively — that will be incredibly helpful to the city.”

Yes it will. And it’s incredibly helpful to every city to see what you’re doing and remember what’s possible. Steven is making such a difference in the lives of so many people and beavers I’m so glad that he was received the credit he deserves with this excellent article.

Martinez is looking forward to learning from you in June!

 


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“There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.

This simple line from the Mock Turtle’s song in Alice in Wonderland always struck me as profound. Like an argument, a pond has two (or more) sides. A deep pond has shallow spaces in it. Those shallow spaces are teaming with aquatic insects, and lined with boggy aquatic plants.

Which is why this article surprised me.

Pet Talk: A summer spent saving turtles

Last summer, two rising second-year veterinary students traded blue lab coats and lecture halls in Urbana for chest-high waders and wetlands in Lake County in northeast Illinois.

Human development and ecological imbalance, such as an abundance of beavers, has destroyed or altered areas where Blanding’s turtles live. For example, in Illinois, dwindling numbers of large predators has led to an increase in the beaver population. Beavers make dams, creating deeper ponds with little water flow and pushing out the Blanding’s turtles, which prefer shallower areas.

The Blanding turtle is a relative of the red-eared slider, which we in Martinez know very well thrives in beaver ponds. So I rushed to the library to find out if this was true. It sounded doubtful, because one of the nost valuable things beavers bring is stream complexity, with braids, channels, and different sections that appeal to different creatures at different periods in their lives. I thought surely if beavers were such a substantial threat to Blanding turtles I’d find all kind of research on the subject.

Guess how much I found? I’ll give you a hint. It’s a ROUND number.

So why care about saving an endangered species? Biodiversity! It is important that we conserve and save native plants and animals to prevent extinction of natural ecosystems. Losing a single species can result in a detrimental domino effect on the rest of the ecosystem in which that species resides.

Gosh darn those pesky beavers and their stubborn and wanton daily destruction of  b-i-o-d-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y. If there’s one thing that troubles me about these animals it’s the barren ponds they create, like watery deserts where they live the solitary lives of bitter beaver misers….

What’s that? Beaver ponds are TEAMING WITH BIODIVERSITY?

Including Blanding turtles?

Here’s expert naturalist Bob Arnebeck from New York writing about them on his web page:

I’ve found Blanding’s Turtles in shallow fresh water bogs that only fill with water in the spring that are no bigger than a driveway. Indeed, I’ve seen two turtles, both almost nine inches long, living in such a small bog. I’ve also found them in large beaver ponds,

Here’s New Hamshire Wildlife bulletin writing about them in their technical manual.Here;s what the Species at risk public registry in Nova Scotia has to say (who hates beavers more than anyone) observed:

Extensive beaver activity is also apparent at most known Blanding’s turtle sites in Nova Scotia.

Meaning where one lives, the other thrives.

How about this Master’s thesis by Tamessa Hartwig from New York on specific habitat observations of the Blanding turtle which has several observations about beaver habitat including this one:
HABITAT SELECTION OF BLANDING’S TURTLE (EMYDOIDEA BLANDINGII): ARANGE-WIDE REVIEW AND MICROHABITAT STUDY

In addition, turtles in W isconsin hibernated in a beaver flowage at the mouth of a creek and in borrow pits (Wilder, 2003)

The sad truth is of course is that the poor Blanding Turtle’s habitat overlaps most precisely with the voracious “human people habitat”. Which means as our subdivisions and culverts concrete up the earth there is less and less space for them, and that’s just too dam bad because we don’t care.

So we blame beavers.