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

The Martinez Beavers

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I spent yesterday getting familiar with this new ‘hood. Check out the wide column on the right, which is easy to add to and fiddle with. It’s easy to embed video or audio and even easy to link to particular pages! Notice that the images across the bar are randomized and will be different when you come back, which I very much appreciate. I love the gallery feature at the bottom margin. A girl could get used to this luxury.

Now if I could ONLY figure out how to change the lime green bars at the top. Honestly I had a nightmare about lime green once in graduate school. It is my LEAST favorite color ever invented,

Let’s visit a fellow blogger today, Philip Strange of the UK, who is very excited to have beavers living nearby, for obvious reasons.

Beavers live here! Rewilding on the River Otter in East Devon

Four years ago, a family of wild beavers were spotted on the river Otter in East Devon.  This was the first report of the animal breeding successfully in the wild in England since the species had been hunted to extinction more than 400 years ago.  No one knows how the animals came to be on the river but their prospering population is now the subject of a scientific trial providing a unique opportunity to monitor the re-introduction of a native species, or “rewilding” as it is sometimes called. 

I wanted to find out more, so one evening in mid-September, I met Kate Ponting, Countryside Learning Officer for Clinton Devon Estates, at the village green in Otterton.  Kate has been closely involved with the beaver re-introduction trial, taking place as it does on land largely owned by her employer.  We headed to the river, crossed the old stone bridge and walked upstream along the muddy riverside path.  Banks of Himalayan balsam and nettles dominated the river bank while, on the landward side, clover leys spread as far as the low embankment that once carried the railway.  Prominent official signs warned that “Beavers live here” and Kate explained that there had been some local problems with dogs.

The river was full after recent heavy rain but the scene was tranquil in the low evening sunshine. We paused on the wooden bridge where Kate pointed out one beaver lodge, a semi-organised jumble of mud, sticks and branches protruding nearly a metre from the river bank and covering the entrance to a burrow where the beavers live. Further up the river we stopped to watch a second lodge on the far bank. Kate had warned me that the beavers had become less “reliable” as the autumn progressed and, although a wren flittered about the sticks making up the lodge and a grey wagtail passed through, we saw no beavers. Kate did, however, show me some signs of beaver activity including severed branches and one felled tree.

Don’t you just love beavers for being the same in Devon as they were in Martinez? Changing their schedules with the sun? (Or visa versa. ) Since their lives are probably not driven by alarm clocks – they probably think WE are less reliable in the fall. They are doing what they usually do, impervious to the sun or the weather. It’s us that change.

These are, however, early days and, as the number of beavers continues to rise, their presence in this managed East Devon landscape may cause tensions. There is good evidence from Bavaria, where the animals were re-introduced 50 years ago, that beavers can have a beneficial influence on rivers. They support wildlife by opening up the landscape, creating coppice and diversifying the wetland habitat. Their dams regulate river flows and remove sediment and pollutants. Sometimes, however, they can be a nuisance to those who live and work by rivers, causing flooding, blocking ditches, undermining river banks and felling important trees. There are now as many as 20,000 beavers on Bavaria’s rivers and their beneficial effects are clearly recognised alongside the need to manage the animals when their activity has a negative impact. Hopefully, a similar resolution can be reached for the East Devon beavers as their population grows. Whatever the outcome, the River Otter Beaver Trial will be closely watched by those interested in “rewilding” the landscape.

Evidence out of Bavaria? How about out of EVERYWHERE?  But sure, okay, Bavaria too. Beavers are good for streams. Period. And any stream without several is broken and  needs fixing. Fortunately for us all, beavers don’t hold a grudge. They will happily recolonize the same waters where they were persecuted for centuries.

 


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If you were crazy enough to visit the website yesterday you probably saw something that looked like this telling you we were closed for maintenance. Of course from my perspective I saw something much, much scarier,  One huge photo, no photos at all. One time the screen was even black and red.  It was quite a day.

Ihttps://2.bp.blogspot.com/-rHlgeSV0OPI/V2iKMC6KrZI/AAAAAAAAJ1U/r5wKNhvBM9UilEGLIyl30BsxKZ9Q2c7FgCLcB/s1600/book-nook.jpg‘m guessing Scott is busily untangling wires as I type, I’m trying to imagine what the finish state will be. At the moment I just know that his vision is way less cluttered than mine. I think of this website like a really rich library crowed with interesting-looking books you might never get around to reading but want definitely want to explore someday. I want it to be a space you could spend hours comfortably exploring or a space you could visit every day and still not see everything. I want it to be immersive and inviting.

But I want the information to be accessible too.

I’m sure we’ll figure out the balance eventually! In the meantime you should take time to enjoy this article about beavers in the tundra where they wonder if beavers moving in will make more habitat for salmon.

Beavers making themselves at home in an unlikely place: Alaska’s northwestern tundra

“It’s kind of the next wildlife you’d expect in tundra, but with much bigger implications,” he said. With their dams and new lakes that hold warmish water, beavers of the tundra ecosystem are thawing permafrost soils through their actions. Beavers could be “priming arctic streams for the establishment of salmon runs” that now don’t exist, maybe because extreme northern waters are too cold for egg development.

https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/newsminer.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/5/0a/50ad1040-cb39-11e7-bf7d-53936e9107e5/5a0e3fe3158bc.image.jpg?resize=1200%2C740Tape and co-authors Ben Jones, Chris Arp, Ingmar Nitze, Guido Grosse and Christian Zimmerman are writing about those changes in a paper with the working title, “Tundra be Dammed: Beaver Colonization of the Arctic.”

“We do not know how beavers reached the Beaufort Coastal Plain, but they would have had to cross a mountain range or swim in the sea,” wrote Yukon biologist Tom Jung, who recently saw a beaver dam and winter store of food just 15 https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/newsminer.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/6/5b/65b6fc80-cb39-11e7-a858-677eda3cdfc0/5a0e400932562.image.jpg?resize=1200%2C900miles south of the Arctic Ocean in northern Yukon Territory.

 Looking at Alaska from above, Tape found beaver dams all the way up the Alatna River and over a broad pass into the Brooks Range and the Nigu River. The Nigu River flows north into the largest river on the North Slope, the Colville. As far as he knows, there are no reports of beaver in the Colville.. But he wonders if beavers were ever present on arctic tundra landscapes. The northern expansion of the American beaver might be a phenomenon people have not yet seen.

I’m not so sure it’s that big of a surprise for beavers to swim through the ocean to colonize new places. They are much better than this than you think. But I hope you get lucky and get beavers soon! You will be richly rewarded.


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There was trouble in website paradise yesterday so I flailed about asking for help. It turned out that Scott Artis, the designer of our site, was willing to step in and do a rescue and remodel, which he’s already begun.

If you’ve ever lived in house that was undergoing any kind of remodel, you’ll instantly understand the clutter and disarray that comes with these changes. But I’m assured that it will be MUCH, MUCH BETTER once it’s done. I am comforted by the fact, that a beaver’s life is FULL of repairs, and the process troubles them not at all. We will think of their patience and let it encourage us to do the same. Give us a couple days and make sure you come back to see how things are going.

You know not posting will cause me to have a coronary event or commit a crime of some kind, so maybe they’ll be an interesting news cycle coming soon. It will all be worth it, right?


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I’m sure you’ve noticed, like I have, that people are compulsively titling their beaver talks or columns with catchy philosophical labels like “Beaver: Eco-savior OR rodent pest” “Beaver: Boon or Bastard?” “Beaver: Helps or Harasses?” I’m putting the world on notice to say RIGHT now that it needs to STOP.  Every single one of those titles and the millions more out there are misleading and false. They all contain a single word that is as untrue as anything you can read. And for this reason they should be stopped.

You know what wickedly misleading word, right I’m talking about, right?

Obviously a beaver is a nuisance AND a friend, a boon AND a bastard, a worry AND a wonder. They can be both, (and really can’t we all?) Even though our impulse is to reduce things to simple single quality and ignore all the other information, the only way we can TRULY understand beavers is to see that they are honestly both.  They make the habitat enormously better and screw up your culvert or your farm at the same time. Just as the mature man recognizes their is good and evil within every person, we have to deal head-on with the beaver’s duality and start from there. The difference of course is that, unlike man, with beavers it’s the very same action they take that is both burdensome and beneficial. I was reminded of this by this article yesterday from the Elk River Alliance in British Columbia.

Beavers: friend or foe?

Beavers are more than Canada’s national symbol and our first national currency trading their pelts. They are also wetland engineers. Just look upstream of the north-Fernie bridge, along the Elk River and you will see an incredible dam built this summer. Although cute industrious critters, are beavers actually friend or foe to Canadians?

While these busy rodents amaze many people, others are less impressed and more annoyed by their activity. Beavers fell trees and their dams can, in some instances, flood property that people might prefer to keep dry. So what good are they to us anyway?

The beaver is a semi-aquatic herbivore that cuts down trees to eat the branches and chew off the bark. They also use this material to build dams and lodges, modifying their environment like us, making them a very unique species. Beavers build dams in order to back up water creating a deep pool of water surrounding their home, especially the entrance. This is important, even during times of low water, as exposure poses a security threat to their den. If water levels are low and the entrance exposed, there is a greater risk of predation to the beaver family.

Rising water levels behind dams may be a nuisance to us but have you considered that this water also creates rich and vibrant wetlands, home to an array of different species, increasing the biodiversity and productivity of our watershed. For free, wetland plants filter out toxins and unwanted chemicals, as well as sediment before water flows back into the Elk River, improving water quality.

Beaver dams also increase water storage capacity in our watershed, both above and below ground. They store increased surface water and are capable of raising the ground water table, important in mitigating the effects of drought. Furthermore, beaver dams help reduce the speed and power of moving water, limiting its erosive capacity and allowing more storage, thus buffering flood damage.

These key functions benefit both the watershed and Canada’s largest rodent. This is why community members, local government, small businesses, and Elk River Alliance joined forces to mitigate the potential damaging affects of beavers in Fernie. Together they installed two large, pond-leveling devices to reduce negative effects of increased surface water: one in the West Fernie wetland and the second one at the McDougal Wetland north of Maiden Lake.

Thank goodness the article is better than the title, because it goes on to describe how the Elk River Alliance learned how to install two flow devices and taught these skills to some other players in Canada. Because the smart answer is that beavers are BOTH a friend and a foe,. Our job, if we want to get the ‘friend’ benefits, is to solve the ‘foe’ challenges correctly!

I received lots of notices about this article yesterday so I know it’s getting it’s attention. I also got a response from Nathaniel at Parks Canada who thanked me for the information I sent on a real beaver deceiver and said they were considering their options. Maybe this article even crossed his desk too? Let’s hope beavers keep moving in the right direction with fewer false dichotomies!

Must it all be either less or more,
Either plain or grand?
Is it always ‘or’?
Is it never ‘and’?

Stephen Sondheim


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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.