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

Any city smarter than a beaver can keep a beaver.

The Martinez Beavers

I spent yesterday moving the digital furniture and making the drop down menus look the way I wanted them to. Please humor me by going to look at them and telling me what needs fixing. Rusty of Napa wrote  a couple suggestions about including photos so that they could be clicked on to make them bigger – and suggested adding some social sharing buttons.  Of course they were working but just no stopped, but the picture thing works right?

Meanwhile Scott says he’ll get rid of the lime green next week, and Bruce updated the domain name for another year, so brace yourself: you’ll be stuck with me that long at least!

In honor of this auspicious occasion, Upstate New York was kind enough to publish this very amusing article. It starts out pleasantly enough but has one of the very best beaver mistakes I’ve read in recent years. Enjoy!

Sandra Scott Travels: Witness The Prowess Of Beaver Engineering

Last week I asked: Where can you see a beaver dam in the making? Near the Amboy 4-H Environmental Education Center.

John and I decided it was a great time to check out a beaver dam we had heard about. Beaver dams are an amazing feat of engineering. We didn’t see any beavers, but I think it was because there was a family with young children just leaving the area. Walk quietly if you go and you may be luckily enough to see the beavers.

They carry the mud to build the dam on their tummy.

Ahhh there it is! Imagine if you will, the series of misunderstandings necessary to convince oneself that beavers carry mud on their tummies! If this was a west coast article I’d be inclined to say they had seen sea otters breaking shells on a rock on their tummies, but that surely never happened in New York?

Nope, there’s simply no accounting for this. And since the author never actually saw a beaver we can assume that this “fact” was given to her by the naturalist, or seen in a display. I might have to right them and ask about it, but for now I’m just going to amuse myself with the notion of a round bodied beaver floating on his back carrying mud on his tummy towards the  dam. Maybe paddling with his tail?

Heh heh.

Speaking of unbelievable things, 25 years ago today my dissertation committee officially gathered  in a small windowless room for the last time to approve my research, making me an official Ph.D. Unlike the oral defense, this was a peaceful,  mostly bloodless gathering, and no scalps were taken. The head of the committee was a brilliant, awkward man who bobbed when he spoke like we were all at sea. The technical wizard who helped with data analysis was busily recalculating my figures on his watch (beep beep) while we spoke, and the other member had just given birth and was breast feeding quietly. In between their comments and questions, tiny sounds of pleasure would come from the infant and brighten the room. “Ah!” 

And then, after 9 years of college it was finally finished, and I had a doctorate. Who knew I be using what’s left of that education to save beavers?

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.


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.

I‘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. 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 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.

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?

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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