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

Worth A Dam

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Sometimes you have one plan in your head all laid out, (like for example expecting so many for dinner and getting out the right number of plates) and then a new piece of information descends upon you like a fresh dusting of snow that means that changes everything (you find out there are two more guests coming than you expected and you no longer have enough plates in one set so you decide to use paper).

This was my morning when I was prepared to write about one thing and saw this delight instead and it just changed everything.

The strange, compelling artistry of “beaver sculptures”

Some years ago, during a canoe trip down the Dumoine River in Quebec, I saw a piece of wood floating in the water. It had been worked by beavers, and, stripped clean, looked lovely. I picked it up and brought it along — across several portages. This was the beginning of what I call my collection of “beaver sculptures.” It has since grown to include well over 100 pieces.

I never take them off the dams or the lodges, on principle: that is for their construction. (Besides, those have no protruding parts, and so are less interesting.) Some I pluck straight out of the water, which usually means that they have been left there recently, perhaps the previous night. The bark is partly or wholly removed, which renders the wood either clean beige (sometimes close to white) or else interspersed with clusters of bark that can be brown, black, and occasionally red.

Other sculptures I find on the land, and occasionally under water. Some of these have been around for a long time, which has turned them gray, dark brown, even black.

I have a snobby friend who insists that this is not art. “Okay,” I reply, “then it is craft.” That is the difference between beaver sculptures and driftwood: both can be lovely, but only one has been worked by skilled craft, not just by nature and time. It’s amazing how many different shapes can come from these mammals, simply engaged in gathering food and building structures.

I personally believe that some of these sculptures merit display. I check every day for an email from the New York Museum of Modern Art begging me to exhibit them. Otherwise, the exhibit belongs in a museum of nature. In the meantime, 35 of them are displayed in the country house: on the walls, the floor, the fireplace, hanging from the ceiling — wherever.

Ahhh Henry! What a wonderful collection and appreciation you’ve shared with us. I love your curation and wrote this morning to thank him. He already wrote back and said there were more of his specimens to admire here. As the official ‘curator’ of our beavers work at I have seen countless children finger and admire those chew marks at events around the state. One chew we used for display was even stolen because it was so much admired!

In our city we have become expert fans of this art and the backyard looks like a beaver-munched museum. I personally have received gifts of chewed sticks beaver friends have brought me from Oregon, England and Georgia. And I have photos of beaver chews from as far away as the Ukraine. This remains one of my favorites, although  Henry says he’s not sure he even believes it’s real.

Here at beaver central we are especially fond of chews-you-can-use. In accordance with our mission we like to showcase how wildlife appreciates and incorporates these pieces as well.

Green heron using beaver chew to fish: Cheryl Reynolds

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Beaver questions from around the world find their way to Martinez. Yesterday I was reminded I had a very weird life. I received an email written by a man who said he works as journalist for a cultural quiz show on the Need a punchline? The email was addressed to “Mr. Martinez“.

(Well, I’ve certainly been called worse things in my life.)

I also heard from our old friend Caitlin McCombs of the famed Mountain House Beaver story who is now snugly at Boston College working on her journalism degree and  has decided to author a paper on the environmental destruction caused by the fur trade. She wondered if I could point her towards any resources on the impacts of removing beaver?

Then I heard from our English friend in Kent who sent along this video. You must watch all the way to the end because the NOSE CLOSEUP is the very best part.

Even if it is single-themed, my odd little life is apparently very multi-cultural.


One of the civics lessons from my high school government class that stayed with me was reading a passage about how the younger generation was lazy, selfish and disrespectful compared to how valuable their parents had been at that age – and learning that this familiarly insulting diatribe had been written in ancient Greece. We always think our generation was the best. Here’s a fine example from the 1624 book The Wise-Man’s Forecast against the Evill Time, Thomas Barnes, the minister of St. Margaret’s Church on New Fish Street in London, bemoaned:

Youth were never more sawcie, yea never more savagely saucie . . . the ancient are scorned, the honourable are contemned, the magistrate is not dreaded.

I’m going to do you a favor and post something that will clarify for you that this younger generation is nothing to be afraid of. Watch this now. You will thank me for it.


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Yesterday was an oddly urgent day. In the morning I got an email from a wise beaver friend who was unhappy about the article I had written back in January saying the suit on Wildlife Services to protect salmon wasn’t going to help beavers much. I was surprised he’d read it and offered to let him counter the argument on the website. Then out of the blue I received (what I assumed was an) unrelated note from the editor of High Country News that they were interested in publishing one of Cheryl’s photos for an article they expected to publish soon. I called Cheryl, got her permission, and them saw this appear on the front page.

Of course I was eager to read more. Which is when I found out it was written by our good friend Ben Goldfarb, who is writing the upcoming book on beavers. and was coming to our festival this summer to promote it and read excerpts aloud.

Can the ‘Beaver State’ learn to love beavers?

When [one landowner]  called for a trapper this time, though, she never heard back. She isn’t sure why her pleas went unanswered. But it’s likely she’d become caught in the middle of an unusual legal battle, one that could upend how the West’s wildlife agencies manage the region’s most influential rodent.

The case revolves around Wildlife Services, the branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture tasked with managing problematic animals. It killed more than 21,000 beavers nationwide last year, including 319 in Oregon.

 Cheryl Reynolds

Among Wildlife Services’ fiercest antagonists is the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. The center has sued the agency in Idaho, California, Colorado and other states, accusing of it failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the law that requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of their actions. So it shouldn’t have been surprising when the center, along with the Western Environmental Law Center and Northwest Environmental Advocates, notified Wildlife Services this November that it planned to take it to court over its Oregon beaver-killing. But this time, rather than citing NEPA, the center was wielding a much tougher law, the Endangered Species Act.

Ben was writing about the legal threat to Wildlife Services because of endangered salmon, Just like the comments made earlier in the day from my friend. I figured it wasn’t a coincidence, and waited for the mystery to unfold itself.

This case, however, hinges on Castor canadensis’s unique environmental influence. Beavers are a “keystone species,” an organism whose pond-creating powers support entire biological communities. In Oregon, a host of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs depend on them. By killing beavers without accounting for the destruction of rodent-built critical habitat, the environmental groups argue, Wildlife Services risks jeopardizing federally protected fish

A sockeye salmon jumps over a beaver dam. Beavers help build critical habitat for young salmon. Dr. Jeffrey S. Jensen, University of Washington, Bothell

.This case, however, hinges on Castor canadensis’s unique environmental influence. Beavers are a “keystone species,” an organism whose pond-creating powers support entire biological communities. In Oregon, a host of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs depend on them. By killing beavers without accounting for the destruction of rodent-built critical habitat, the environmental groups argue, Wildlife Services risks jeopardizing federally protected fish.

The article goes on to describe how there’s so much science behind the “beavers-key-to-salmon” argument that Wildlife Services immediately agreed to suspend trapping of all aquatic mammals until the issue could be reviewed by fish experts – their report is due to be released at the end of this month. Just for comparison a similar process in Washington determined that beavers were so important to salmon that WS would only trap them in agriculture drainage channels.

This is where it gets really interesting.

Whatever happens, the case’s symbolic significance is hard to miss. Around the West, a burgeoning coalition of “Beaver Believers” is relocating, conserving, or imitating beavers to improve sage grouse habitat, build wetlands for swans, store groundwater, boost cattle forage and repair eroded streams. Although Wildlife Services has been a powerful headwind in the face of that momentum, its willingness to consult in Oregon hints that the agency is capable of viewing beavers as boons as well as pests. And further legal action seems likely: “We’re talking to all of our partners about beavers,” says Andrew Hawley, staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, “and what we can be doing to help change how they’re managed throughout the West.”

The next paragraph discusses how some ridiculous beaver-crazed advocates aren’t sure that the suit will make much difference, because beavers will just get killed some other way anyhow. Who in the hell would say something stupid like that?

Oh right, it was me. In the January column the article links to next.

Some advocates worry that, if Wildlife Services’ ability to control beavers is curtailed, the agency’s “cooperators” — the counties and other land managers with whom it contracts — will simply hire private trappers, increasing undocumented killings. Beaver removal could continue unabated, but without the government tracking kills: a data-deficient free-for-all.

Adkins, though, is more optimistic. Because it’s a federal agency, she points out, Wildlife Services offers services to cooperators at prices that private trappers can’t match. By limiting federally subsidized trapping on salmon streams, conservationists hope to spur land managers to seek less deadly solutions. “Lethal management will probably never be taken off the books,” says Leonard Houston, a Douglas County resident who has live-trapped and relocated dozens of beavers under the auspices of the South Umpqua Rural Community Parnership, “but our hope is that this will make it a last option.”

Hmm. So their response is that WS trapping is cheaper because the federal government helps pick up the bill, and when the service costs more folks might be slower to kill them outright. Like imposing taxes on cigarettes, Interesting. The article goes on to describe the landowner from opening paragraph who had a flow device installed on her land at no cost to her through the good work of Jakob Shockley and Leonard Houston, and ends thusly:

After Susan Sherosick’s trapping requests went unanswered, she contacted Houston, whose name she’d seen in the newspaper. One Tuesday in January, Houston and Jakob Shockey, the founder of a company called Beaver State Wildlife Solutions, visited Sherosick’s land to install a flow device, a pipe-and-fence contraption designed to lower beaver ponds, thereby sparing both property and the animals’ lives. When I spoke with her several days later, she seemed cautiously optimistic about her ability to cohabitate with her buck-toothed neighbors. “The water’s down far enough now that it’s not hurting anything,” she said. “I’m waiting to see how it works out. It’s only been a week.”

Ben Goldfarb is the author of the forthcoming book Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter (Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2018).

Excellent article, and it makes me tingle with anticipation as to what will happen next week. I understand how this action is the first rung of a ladder that might force the federal government to think about beavers differently.

But can I just say how, since I inherited this website in 2008 and have written exactly 3859 articles on behalf of them every single dam morning of every single day spanning an entire decade, I’m not exactly sure that the ONE column I’d want to be featured in a national periodical would be the controversial APHIS defending one!!!

Sheesh.

Well at least it doesn’t have too many typos.


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Do we have a catagory of “unexpected beaver news”? If we don’t we should. These two items qualify.

A Langley man travels coast-to-coast to honour Canada’s national symbol

The “Beaver appreciation tour” was timed for country’s 150th birthday

If he sounds like a fan of Canada’s national symbol, it could be because the energetic Ted Lightfoot, who spent more than three decades in the construction industry, likes to build things, just like the hard-working animal he admires.

Ted Lightfoot of Langley spent two months towing this converted rail carriage cart across the country to help celebrate Canada’s 150 year sesquicentennial by honoring Canada’s national symbol, the beaver. It’s on display at the CN railway station in Fort Langley. Dan Ferguson Langley Times

While some view beavers as a nuisance because they can cause flooding by building dams, Lightfoot is one of those who see them as a “keystone species” that creates wetland habitat that other animals benefit from.

For Canada’s 150th birthday, at his own expense, the Langley resident towed a custom-built trailer with a “Beep For Beaver” message on the back across the country, a 25-day, 6,300-kilometre “Sesquicentennial Beaver Appreciation Tour.”

Ohh man,why didn’t I think of that? I’ve been on a beaver appreciation tour this entire decade! Ted, do you need a buddy to ride shotgun? Ted seems like a nice guy to ride along with. Check out the video by clicking on the headline above.

I was also struck by an article that mentioned that a recipient of the ‘bronze beaver award‘ was stopping by Houston on his tour. Turns out it’s an award given by MIT. Of course I had to look this information up. Of course it’s not given for the first thing you’d think of. Or the second for that matter.

Bronze Beaver Award
The Bronze Beaver Award is the highest honor the Association can bestow upon any alumni volunteer. It is given to recognize distinguished service to the Alumni Association and the Institute by alumni who have been active in most or all phases of alumni activity and who have been outstanding in at least one phase. Alf K. Berle ’27 and Carole (Cac) A. Clarke ’21 were the first recipients of this award, which was established in 1955. 319 individuals have been awarded the Bronze Beaver.

I know you are curious to see what one looks like. So was I. Hmmm maybe Worth A Dam needs to give an award too?

 

 


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We’ve reached that in delicate period of pre-festival frenzy when there are really only two things I do  – and I do them all the time.  Talking people into things (like can we have access to water in the park for the EBRP fish mobile?) and talking people outta things (like will you donate one of these for the silent auction?). Everyday. All day. Thing one or thing two. That’s all I do.

I’ve been scouring beaver art work online in order to find possible donations to the silent auction. When I came across this and was amused in a familiar way. You might be too. It’s the work of an artist in Denmark. Based on the skills of one we know very well.

You would think that with SO many people advocating  how and why to live with beavers in the wide world there would be enough compelling photos of the creatures not to rely exclusively on Martinez, wouldn’t you?

Apparently not.