A cautionary tail [sic]

   Posted by heidi08 On April - 24 - 2014ADD COMMENTS

Yesterday I got a sneak peak at an upcoming something I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but believe me when I say you will be very, very interested. I sure was. Then it was time to dash off to virtual school with the Bren masters students who had put together a model for beaver dams in the Jemez watershed in New Mexico using Joe Wheaton’s BRAT tool.



The Bren School is the environmental division of UC Santa Barbara, so within walking distance of the salmonid restoration conference, where they could have heard all about beavers restoring watershed if they were interested. The project was a discussion of theoretical beavers in the Jemez, which is a tributary of the Rio Grande in New Mexico where there aren’t too many beavers to spare. They did not talk about  actual beavers. They built the 40 dams themselves based on a model of where beaver dams should be expected to go. Using a tool from the Army Corp of Engineers they measured how much water they preserved with the dams. Then calculated the effect on two species of special concern, a rare native trout and a aquatic mouse. The idea being that you have to prove that beavers are a good idea before any will actually sponsor them. There aren’t too many beavers in New Mexico but there are some. I had to wonder what would happen if any slipped into the Jemez study area by mistake?

I honestly tried very hard to not think like a crazy beaver lover and follow the science behind their presentation without getting annoyed that there were no ACTUAL BEAVERS in their BEAVER thesis. But then they showed this slide and I really couldn’t help myself.Capture

Banging Head on Computer Keyboard photo BangingHeadAgainstKeyboardStreetSig.gif How could they know what a beaver looks like if there’s not any in their beaver research?  They’d have no way of knowing that photo actually wasn’t one. And it’s not like Dr. Tim Robinson of the Cachuma Conservation Release Board counted 300+ actual beaver dams on the lower Santa Ynez River a half hour drive from their school. There are certainly no resources on the internet that would help them learn the esoteric difference.

nutriaLet’s not suggest that WildEarth Guardians whose writing them grants to fund this project should know any better. I mean just because they have an audited statement from 2012 with a end of year balance of six digits doesn’t mean they should know what an animal they’re funding looks like, right? Stop being so picky, Heidi.

There were questions and answers after the presentation and some nice discussion about native fish versus non natives getting around beaver dams. Byran from Earth Guardians talked about the recent legislation in New Mexico about climate change and beaver management, which was largely the work of Wild Earth Guardians and their legal struggle to make the state take beavers seriously.

Since I know what its like to be a graduate student presenting your work,  I politely didn’t ask anyone about the nutria or the decision to study hypothetical beavers (rather than the actual ones USDA says they killed in New Mexico), but I did write them privately that they might want to change that photo before putting the presentation on line.

For whatever reason that didn’t happen. So let this be a cautionary tale (tail).

Beavers on PRI

   Posted by heidi08 On April - 23 - 2014ADD COMMENTS


Whatever you’re doing this morning  you HAVE to  make time to hear this excellent program on the beavers in the river otter in Cornwall. My mom happened to be in the car when it aired yesterday and gave the beaver signal. Reporter Christopher Werth interviews the farmer who discovered them, and then our old friend Derek Gow who has been beating the beaver drum for years in England. Honestly it’s an excellent interview, you won’t regret it. They interview the usual castor-phobic fisherman, and then let Derek respond.

But Derek Gow, firmly in the Yea faction of the beaver debate, has a stiff rejoinder to these concerns.

 “That’s just a crap argument,” says Gow, a conservationist who’s campaigned for the reintroduction of beavers since the 1990’s.

 Gow says beaver dams would actually reduce flooding by holding water. And he says fears about beavers arise from the fact that, after centuries living without them, people have forgotten what the animals actually do.

 “They think it’s some sort of Godzilla-type thing that’s going to rip babies out of prams, and kick down the Houses of Parliament, and chop down every tree there is in the landscape,” Gow says. “And that’s just ridiculous!”

pramrobberI just adore the visual of beavers ripping babies out of prams, and wrote Derek this morning to say so. But the truth is, people aren’t uniquely irrational in England after their 500-year beaver break. There have been beavers more  or less consistently in America and we’re still anxious and stupid about them. They’re pretty stupid in Canada too. Let’s just say that castor-phobia isn’t unique to the British Isles.

(And this was the most fun I ever had making a graphic).

Thanks Mom for the tip! Looks like my comments from last night have been bumped to the top of the page. Now I’m just waiting for them to have a beaver festival in Cornwall!


This apparent family of beavers are the first seen in the wild in England in roughly 500 years. They were discovered by retired ecologist Tom Buckley, who installed motion sensor cameras, caught the beavers on tape and gave the images to the BBC. “It’s a great achievement that they’ve managed to come back,” Buckley says. 

Remembering an Important birthday on Earth day

   Posted by heidi08 On April - 22 - 2014ADD COMMENTS

John Muir at his desk as imagined by Ian Timothy

John Muir was born in Dunbar Scotland 176 years ago yesterday. He was the third of eight children born to strict Presbyterian parents who felt that time spent outdoors in nature was a distraction from time learning the bible. In fact, by the time Muir was a young man he could recite most of the old and and all of the new testaments by heart. When he was 11 the family immigrated to Wisconsin, and Scotland’s native son became America’s treasure. After adventures from Canada to Florida, Muir at  40 fell in love with Louisa Strenzel in Martinez in 1880 and settled into a partnership with her physician father managing their 2600 acre fruit ranch, some of which is still producing today. It was in this house that Muir had his office (“scribble den”) and  wrote his seminal works. It was in this house that Muir received countless dignitaries and inspired guests, including the author of the most important beaver book ever written, Enos Mills.

Mills Muir Martinez.jpgSome 169 years later.Ian Timothy, of the most famous beaver animation series “Beaver Creek” ever crafted also made a pilgrimage to Martinez with his parents. He squeezed Muir’s hometown in right between his homage to Pixar and his appearance at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City.

Kentucky meets CaliforniaA  life long admirer of Muir’s message and work, so it’s hardly surprising that his Freshman year film project at Cal Arts’ is a piece about Muir.

Looking at the stills, I for one can’t wait  to see it.

1978716_4104302143156_489321074155510479_nOh, and if you want to celebrate Muir’s birthday and legacy in person, you should join the party on Saturday.1911896_506523056125273_551774769_n

Trapped beaver(s) finally rescued! er, trapped?

   Posted by heidi08 On April - 21 - 2014ADD COMMENTS

A beaver ostensibly trapped in a lock chamber of the Rideau Canal at Merrickville had locals fretting about its fate over the Easter weekend. It was finally rescued by local volunteer firefighters.

Trapped beaver tale has a happy ending

On a weekend better known for bunnies, this beaver tale had a happy ending.

After hearing reports from customers that a beaver was trapped in a nearby Rideau Canal lock early Saturday, Deanna Whaley went to investigate.

 To her dismay, Whaley, who runs Gad’s Hill Place Eating House in Merrickville, found the furry creature padding back and forth in shallow water at the bottom of the lock, trying to find a way out.

 “I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “This poor animal is languishing. He’s going back and forth but he can’t get out.

 Whaley kept checking on the animal all day. Finally, out of concern for its welfare — “I know he’s just a beaver but I feel sorry for him” — she phoned for help, calling everyone from the Ontario Provincial Police and the Smiths Falls Humane Society to the National Capital Commission, Parks Canada and the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.

Ack! I’m glad she was worried about that beaver, who knows how long he might have been trapped in there without a meal? The historic Merrimack locks were designed after the Middelsex Canal opened route to Boston in 1803. From Merrimack to the canal were several waterfalls and obstructions that the locks circumvented. By 1817 the work was done and the long series of locks provided an efficient passage.

But not for beavers.

Turns out that no one wants to be bothered with a beaver rescue on a holiday weekend, and Whaley kept getting the run around when she tried to call the authorities. She finally reached a responsible soul at Rideau Canal National Historic Site’s answering service and “half an hour later, Scott Tweedie, the northern sector manager for the agency, called the Citizen and promised action”.

Tweedie delivered. Four volunteers from the Merrickville Fire Department showed up with cages, climbed down into the lock and, to everyone’s surprise, found three of the creatures. Two were soon caged, though one remained — well, cagey.

 At 6:30 Sunday, Whaley called the Citizen: “Mission accomplished,” she said. “Beavers rescued.”

The article ends without telling us where those beavers were  released, so I’m not ready to celebrate just yet. Still, I’m very happy that Whaley cared enough to keep calling, and that the firemen came through.

I can’t help but wonder what they were all doing together. And looking at that long series of locks I hope they weren’t dispersing and managed all that way- like a kind of watery mario brothers – only to be returned back to the start again!


Our own beavers put on a nice show last night, with two yearlings demonstrating that beavers don’t always share.

Unexpected Fiscal Alliance

   Posted by heidi08 On April - 20 - 2014ADD COMMENTS

Dunlins, a type of migratory shorebird, use “pop up” wetlands created in California’s once-lush Central Valley by the BirdReturns program, the work of conservationists. Credit Drew Kelly/The Nature Conservancy

CaptureScience Paying Farmers to Welcome Birds

The program, called BirdReturns, starts with data from eBird, the pioneering citizen science project that asks birders to record sightings on a smartphone app and send the information to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in upstate New York.

The BirdReturns program, financed by the Nature Conservancy, then pays rice farmers in the birds’ flight path to keep their fields flooded with irrigation water from the Sacramento River as migrating flocks arrive. The prices are determined by reverse auction, in which farmers bid for leases and the lowest bidder wins.

I’m  sure you’ve seen it yourself when you drive along. Rows and rows of birds species using wetlands or furiously pecking for corn. I made this movie in 2009 after stumbling on a very strange assortment on highway 12.


But when I saw this article in the New York Times, all I could think of was beavers. What if the nature conservancy or the salmon fisheries were paying farmers to leave beavers on their land? What if there were incentives to letting beavers create wetlands, raise the water table, filter toxins, increase salmonids, augment the bird population, and enrich the riparian border?

Sound crazy? I’m hoping for another easter miracle.



   Posted by heidi08 On April - 19 - 2014Comments Off

Stop whatever you’re doing and close the door very quietly behind you. Are we alone? Good, because this kind of news isn’t for just any ears. Cheryl went to watch beavers last night, and reports that mom came out rather late and stood up by the primary dam and  – wait, are you sitting down? Swallow that coffee.

She showed healthy teats!

Healthy visible kit-sustaining teats! That almost certainly means we have kits! We have kits! Martinez has kits! For the seventh year running (no kits in 2011 after mom died) we have kits! Isn’t that wonderful? No photos because it was too dark, but here’s one from 2008 taken by Linda Meza to give you the idea of what she saw.

beaver breasts

You can bet we’ll be keeping an eye on how things develop. Maybe you should stop by at earth day to hear the latest. Thanks Cheryl!


I just watched this movie for the first time in years because someone asked about it. It was made for a library presentation in 2008. Gosh, these were magical days of just discovering our beavers! That’s still how I feel when we see a new kit for the first time.

Sign up for beaver school!

   Posted by heidi08 On April - 18 - 2014Comments Off

Next wednesday from, 1-2 Pacific Time Earth Guardians will be sponsoring a webinar on beaver effects on streams. You can bet I’ll be sitting in the first virtual row. Thanks Mary Obrien for send this my way!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

2:00pm (Mountain Time)

Register for the webinar here:

 Abstract – Beaver are known for their engineering abilities and their impact on water resources. Water is a valuable resource in the arid southwest, and the focus of this study was to evaluate the impact of beaver re-establishment on the water resources of the Jemez Watershed in New Mexico for future state-wide management planning. The Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool (BRAT) was used to evaluate the current capacity of the watershed based on vegetation, baseflow, and flood stream power. The model demonstrated that the watershed is capable of supporting a re-established beaver population and identified the suitable stream reaches for dam building activities. Using HEC-HMS, we captured the hydrologic response of the Jemez River to precipitation by calibrating it to historic hydrographs. Once calibrated, 42 reservoir elements representing beaver dams were added to the Rio de las Vacas region to simulate an initial re-established population of beavers. The results indicate an attenuation of 5-30% of peak flows and an increase in baseflow of 5-15%. Additionally, we calculated the increase of aquatic and riparian habitat from dam construction and pond formation. It was determined that 15 special-status species in the watershed could potentially benefit from beaver activity and habitat creation. The Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii viginalis; state-sensitive) could utilize ponds as habitat and take advantage of dams as barriers to non-native trout movements and the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius luteus; state-endangered, federally proposed) could utilize the increase in riparian habitat bordering ponds. It is possible that the re-establishment of beaver to the Jemez Watershed would allow theses species to expand into previously extirpated portions of their range, highlighting the positive impacts of beaver on water resources in this area of the arid southwest.

Who: Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director, WildEarth Guardians

Alexandre Caillat, Bren School Masters Candidate

Bret Callaway, Bren School Masters Candidate

Drake Hebert, Bren School Masters Candidate

Andrew Nguyen, Bren School Masters Candidate

Shelby Petro, Bren School Masters Candidate*

 Oh and guess what? Beaver Festival VII is officially  a reality. We’re approved!