Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Drought Tolerant Beavers of the Santa Ynez

Hey now.... some new stuff going on in Castor land. Yesterday saw the unveiling of the magnum opus on beaver restoration The Beaver Restoration Guidebook: Working With Beaver to Restore Streams, Wetlands, and Floodplains pdf here. I am greatly pleased with the work and it is most useful to have so much pertinent information at hand in one spot that can hopefully guide future beaver restoration/protection work. Great job and kudos to Castro, Pollock, Jordan, Lewallen & Woodruff (although you guys just gots to put southland beaver in your list of beaver links/blogs, come on now!!)

Last Saturday I took a trip to check out the beaver activity at my usual spot on Santa Ynez river of Santa Barbara county. Last summer I was gravely concerned for the ability of these beavers to survive the excruciating drought conditions of this watershed. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw fresh beaver sign in October of last year in an area that just several months prior in late July was bone dry - and bone dry for at least several months. This got me thinking about how these beavers survive these conditions. Do they migrate up or downstream? Relocate to nearby golf ponds? I now think that these beavers in fact hunker down in their bank burrows and just wait out the dry season - an idea I elaborated on in my last post: Do Drought Prone Beavers Aestivate?

The answer to that last question - if you are not among the 41 people who actually read it on this blog - (sheesh people come on this is a very interesting topic, I put that post on my paleo blog and it has got over 400 hits as of today!!) is that they probably don't aestivate in the truest sense of the word (asestivate is basically a summer hibernation) but that they probably do go into a bit of slight summer torpor. This is more or less analogous to the winter adaptation of cold adapted beaver. By staying in their cool bank burrows, largely living off fat with minimal foraging, and generally shutting things down a bit and staying out of sight of predators these drought tolerant beavers have adapted to an ephemeral water regime. And that is my working hypothesis so far.

The evidence I observed on this trip is very much in line with that idea.

Above is the state of the river very close to the first beaver denning area I have identified. Notice how many of the willow have already lost their leaves - it appears the vegetation here has also adapted to such a strong oscillation of seasonal water availability.

These are the two pools that remain in the river immediately adjacent to several bank burrows currently underwater. I think that the beaver depend on these relict pools of water until Cachuma dam release flows occur in late August - October. You might not immediately recognize this as active beaver habitat but check out these pics below.

Can you see that fairly obvious and well marked trail above the water line, and what appears to be a bit of a browse line on the hillside vegetation? I don't think that the beaver eat very much this time of year, just enough to keep up their intestinal biome. But those are beaver sign in my estimation and the proximity to the water allows quick escape from predators into their underwater bank burrow. Later on by late July/August this area will be almost completely dry with the burrow exposed.

And the real clincher was a pretty obvious rear beaver paw track at a nearby grimy little pool.

I then moved on to a site further upriver that maintains pools into the dry season, has loads of bank burrows, and a series of pretty spectacular beaver ponds adjacent.

The beaver ponds had seen better days and there was no fresh sign, probably because foraging here this time of year exposes them to predator risk.

As you can see these series of ponds dry out completely and this seems to be the pattern every summer I visit them. I consider these to be more satellite territories as I have never seem any evidence of bank burrows, lodges, or permanent year round habitation. When the water returns the willows and especially the cattail beds become flush with life and as soon as that happens I see beaver activity here, especially uprooted cattails. It is also worth noting that the dams are all quite leaky and often fall into disrepair.

I often hear about how diligent beaver are about damming up the slightest leak in their dams. But the beaver who frequent these dams appear to be a little blase about keeping super tidy dams. They just want to slow the water down enough for the emergent vegetation to get a good toehold.

Where I think the beavers who frequent these "satellite ponds" live is in an adjacent stretch of the river where again we see the same pattern as the first bank burrow. Fairly steep gradient, sandstone or loose alluvial soils, large tree roots providing anchorage, north facing for coolness, and at least some persistent pools of water providing drinking water well into the dry season.

This picture below captures that area where there at least half a dozen bank burrows including the only recent chew marks on a tree I saw on this visit.

Note the fairly recent chew mark on a willow adjacent to this bank burrow built into a large willow root ball. I got a close up below unfortunately my focus was a little off.

I think that beaver might often resist chopping down the trees that their bank burrows are built into or are adjacent to. They provide stability to their burrow and cover from predators.

Clever beavers.

I saw little in the way of aquatic life, native or non-native. In the past I have found abundant crayfish, bullfrogs, and bullfrog tadpoles in these ponds. But several years of brutal drought have killed them off as well as a big ol' blue heron I see every time I come down this stretch. I have seen a trout fry at least once in the first pool but no fish at all this time. I saw a western pond turtle once, but they, like the beaver are likely sequestered away this time of year in burrows. I saw abundant CA quail, wild turkey in the river bed for the first time, and red tailed hawk as well.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Do Drought Prone Beaver Populations Aestivate?


As some of my readers know I maintain a blog about both paleontology (antediluviansalad.blogspot) and beavers (southlandbeaver.blogspot). This post gives me a chance to actually merge the two blogs a bit!!

Take a second to watch the video I posted above. It is an exquisitely preserved synchotron rendered 3-D preservation of two Triassic animals; a stem amphibian Broomistega; and a stem mammal therapsid Thrinaxodon. The most parsimonious interpretation that the authors of the paper in question (link Fernandez V, Abdala F, Carlson KJ, Cook DC, Rubidge BS, Yates A, et al. (2013) Synchrotron Reveals Early Triassic Odd Couple: Injured Amphibian and Aestivating Therapsid Share Burrow. PLoS ONE 8(6): e64978. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064978) come to is that the two organisms coexisted in a burrow to survive a harrowing drought. Such a tactic is widespread in organisms that must persist through both seasonally cold and/or hot/dry conditions. Metabolism can be slowed a bit and even enter a state of torpor, or more appropriately termed in the dry season aestivation - which is pretty much the equivalent of winter hibernation. Now trying to parcel out where the distinction lies between rest, sleep, torpor, hibernation, aestivation is a hard nut to crack. Truth be told all these phases are probably best understood on a continuum from rest < sleep  < torpor < hibernation/aestivation <  dormancy.

Broomistega (grey) & Thrinaxodon(brown) preserved in burrow credit Fernandez 2013

From the paper:

Now hopefully the connection does not go over your head. As a putative "mammal ancestor" modern mammals share this genetic legacy of "torpor" which is still often used in many modern mammals - even primates - and which may have even allowed mammals to survive the Cretaceous mass extinction while non-avian dinosaurs did not.

And now onto the beaver part.....

Several years ago when I first started to get interested in beaver in California and other arid places one of my chief stumbling blocks was trying to grapple with the idea of putting such a water dependent critter into a habitat where water has a very ephemeral presence on the landscape. This was of course before I got into contact with Rick Lanman, Heidi Perryman and other beaver notaries and discovered that beaver not only can live in such areas but are doing so right now in places such as the Mojave River in San Bernardino county socal (here and here), Santa Margarita River in Orange/San Diego counties (here), and various river systems throughout Arizona/Nevada/Utah/and New Mexico.

And, among many others, the river system I am most familiar with in regards to beaver in arid lands: the Santa Ynez river in Santa Barbara county which I have covered extensively (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Based on my personal observations, communications, and GEOlocate mapping viewings the Santa Ynez beaver population might be in the hundreds or even more despite the fact that the river system is highly augmented by human flow discharges from Cachuma Lake and is prone to all the flooding/droughts/ and water shortages that characterize a river system in coastal central/southern California.

Long story short even in the best of years the river runs mainly dry during several months of the year and during drought times (as we are in now) the river might be mainly dry from May to late August/September (if Cachuma does a late season water release for downstream senior water rights entitled farmers). We are, at a minimum, looking at 4-5 months of dry river.

How do beaver survive in conditions waffling between this,

and this?

Now I have had a lot of pet hypotheses that I have been spinning around to explain this anachronism; Maybe beavers migrate downstream or upstream to areas of permanent discharge from wastewater treatment plants downstream or mandatory steelhead discharges from Cachuma upsteam; Maybe beaver are not as territorial here and share these resources in drought times; Maybe they relocate to the several golf ponds on surrounding golf courses. 

But all of these hypotheses have their problems. Beaver are known to be terrritorial. Golf ponds do not line the whole river. And even if they did relocate up/downsteam that is still a trek of several dozens of kilometers for the beaver in the center of river course. And then this trek has to be done with kits in tow because kits stay with their parents for several years. This would be a very hazardous risk due to the abundant predators of the river: there are for sure bobcats, coyotes, and cougar - probably black bear too. I have seen predator track/activity such as this gnarled mule deer spine in the river bed.

likely predator activity, probably coyote. mule deer spine Santa Ynez River
I now think all those ideas are too flawed and what makes most sense to me is this: beaver along the Santa Ynez - and probably most arid condition beaver populations - hunker down in their bank burrows and go into a bit of torpor. They probably don't aestivate to the true definition of the word which is basically a summer version of hibernation - and we know that beaver do not hibernate.

Probably the best summary of known beaver "thermoregulatory" tactics is the one on the USDA page on beaver (Baker & Hill 2003 pdf link):

In a sense arid beaver simply "flip the script" in the parlance of the time and do what beaver do in winter in high latitude/frost prone areas of the range except that they do it in the summer as opposed to the winter. As most beaver in arid areas dig bank burrows this makes for more of cool temperature thermal refuge to inhibit water loss. Note that lodges - made of wood usually - would still swelter in the sun but several feet underground is a much cooler refuge. If beaver can position their burrow next to a small pool of water - either dug into the substrate or provided for by human activities - this provides a pool for defecation and drinking (eww I know both in the same pool). And if the the beaver can stockpile a food source or be close enough to find some forage this will provide the sustenance. But all in all I think beaver strategy is to hunker down, eat very little, drink very little, survive on fat, and most of all just stay out of sight as much as possible to avoid predator attention. A waiting game for the water which I fully think beaver are capable of.

And I have some photographs/videos to embellish my case:

from July 2014

Now this fetid pool was the last bit of water in an area usually brimming with beaver activity. If you look closely you can make out two probable bank burrows. You will also notice several logs/branches on the ground. The outer bark is chewed off and note that the tree above - which more or denotes how high the water would usually be here - has its outer bark chewed off. Again I don't think beaver eat very much in this period - probably only enough to keep their intestinal biome optimized - but live off fat stored in their body and especially their tail.

I believe the depth of this pool is maintained by the beavers themselves to serve as a water reserve during the drought. This area of the river is full of rocks and since this pool occurs on a very rocky/cobbly part of the river these beaver are actively moving the rocks out of this deep part to dam up other parts. It should also not go unnoticed that this deepening of the channel - some claim beaver do the opposite but I disagree here - would serve as a nice cold water refuge for salmonids in years where drought was not so intense. Unfortunately non-native bullfrog are fully established in this stretch of the river and that is all I saw in this pool were goobly-gobbly looking bullfrog tadpoles.

Rock dam near bank burrow and deep pool

Above is a video I shot showing this same area in April of that same year showing this pool in higher water times when I already suspected the usage here. You will note the two leaning trees that you can see in the pic above. I sound a little wheezy because at the time I was suffering a bit of iron deficiency.

And some beaver burrows upriver - remember this is in April of a drought year - so when I went back this area was completely dried up as you can see in the 2nd dry season pic above.

And then there was the documentation on the San Pedro River of Arizona of beaver, bank burrow, and small dug out pool that I covered before here.

Desert Beavers on San Pedro River AZ
And astute beaver readers can probably recall a none too dissimilar situation of a beaver bunkering down on the Guadalupe River of Santa Clara county in drought conditions surviving off of a leaky culvert which I read about on Heidi Perryman's Martinez Beavers blog.

Dry Guadalupe Summer 2014 credit Roger Castillo
Beaver Gnawed Cottonwood on Dry Guadalupe credit Steve Holmes
Water culvert exploiting Guadalupe beaver credit Gred Kerekez (c)
Reed bed w/beaver in cool/hidden spot w/water nearby from culvert

So in conclusion I doubt arid adapted beaver aestivate in the truest sense of the word but by just slowing things down a bit, bunkering down in a cool burrow, and sequestering away a source of water and just enough food beaver can find a way to squeeze through dry spells. Again, as discussed in the paleo paper on stem amphibians/mammals in arid climes this adaptation need not necessitate a strong drop in metabolism in line with true aestivation but it can significantly aide in resource poor/hot environments. And this is not a radical new adaptation for this species - it is simply the inverse of what northern/cold climate beaver do. Instead of buckling down for a couple months in the winter time arid adapted beaver adopt this behavior in the summer.

Dried beaver pond. Santa Ynez River

and nile crocodiles digging into and surviving in caves dug into river banks to survive drought in Africa just because....

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Southland Beaver Lives!!!

Ok now I am not really the type to apologize for not posting recently on a blog which I do for free... cuz, you know, I do it for free. And sometimes life gets in the way, I am busy with my other blog, and sometimes you just need to step away when the pace of change frustrates you.

That being said there is some good news.

Southland beaver recently passed 20,000 page views!! That might not sound like a lot but this is a fairly niche blog and it's not exactly click bait posts that I like to write so I am happy that the blog, even when I go away for it for awhile is still getting a pretty constant trickle of hits and views. 20-40 hits per day is pretty good when I am not regularly updating. And maybe some strands of the populace are waking up to the potential for beaver not only in California but other arid climes. I have made contacts with people from Arizona and Spain who have similar storylines invovlving beaver in arid lands.

I will be going on a month long beaver safari!! I just landed a month long filed position in Monterey county on the Arroyo Seco tributary of Salinas river. I am really looking forward to this one as it is an un-dammed, native trout/steelhead creek with some interesting herp fauna to boot. We will be investigating the use of non-natives in beaver ponds. I know that this a controversial topic for beaver enthusiasts because it has the potential to paint beaver in a bad light as crayfish, bullfrogs, bass, carp, and other introduced species do find potential habitat in beaver ponds BUT as I have discussed before here there is potential for beaver ponds to actually mitigate alien species by concentrating them at specific sites which allow top predator herons, mergansers, raccoons, otters, garter snakes and other predators to move in and gobble up the non-natives. Look at it this way if you are a hungry great blue heron you can gobble up one or two big bullfrogs and be full or hunt all day long to find smaller, more cryptic native California tree frogs.  A big, mucky carp is a lot easier for a raccoon to catch than a nimble, wary rainbow trout. Predators do have optimal foraging strategies and many non-natives are readily gobbled up by our native predators.

Native Black Crowned Night Heron catches non-native large mouth bass in native beaver pond Napa CA credit Hank Miller c/o Martinez Beaver
And towards a more holistic approach to non-natives: in lieu of the fact that California does not have a statewide program for completely eliminating non-natives nor do we see the political will to fund such a massive project why should we punch downwards on beaver? I mean, beaver or no beaver non-natives are going to be in our systems. If there are no beaver ponds the non-natives will finds spots in any nook or cranny that suits them. The L.A. river has no beavers and it also has no native fish species left. Also keep in mind that most of our systems have man-made lakes or reservoirs that connect with the rivers and which are stocked intentionally with non-natives by CDFW. So unless we get rid of these founding populations of invasives that connect with and reinoculate river systems every time there is a water discharge, what are we really talking about here? The beaver can not be the scapegoat for our mismanagement of native ecosystems.

Let me reframe the debate concerning non-natives. I am in touch with a lot of people in the bird world. One of the most devastating actors that thwart native passerines is the brown headed cowbird - a nest parasite. Now although it is not strictly an introduced species in California- the proliferation of pastureland has increased its presence in many parts of the state. This has created the implementation of trapping programs to diminish the brown headed cowbird. But, interestingly, there is some thought that complete eradication of the cowbird is not wanted. The reasoning is that if there is not some pressure from cowbirds the native birds will never evolve defensive strategies to thwart them.

Cowbird trap Vern-Freeman Diversion
I think a more nuanced approach to beaver and non-natives may prove useful. Yes beaver ponds provide habitat for non-native species. No we can never get rid of all non-natives. Beaver ponds also provide habitat for natives and generally increase the habitat diversity for everything in the system, especially top-tier predators that may preferentially seek out and consume the larger, more obvious non-native species thus mitigating the negative effects of non-natives on natives. And finally allowing non-natives and natives to eoexist may prove useful in allowing natives to develop evolutionary coping mechanisms to deal with these pressures. Beaver ponds may in fact prove a useful arena to allow such coping mechanisms to evolve.

I have a variety of new and interesting thought pieces on beavers biology and ecology.

I want to explore the "hidden" diversity of semi-aquatic herps in California and how the loss of beaver habitat may have negatively affected these species.

I plant on presenting a new and exciting theory for how beaver cope with and survive in drought prone habitats. Stay tuned, southland beaver world exclusive.

And I want to lay out my idea for "intentional living" with beavers. A novel and exciting idea I have been gestating upon to not only restore beaver to wild lands but deliberately use beaver in tandem with water diverting methods to maximize wetland restoration, aquaculture production, groundwater infiltration, agriculture, and generally safeguard human water resources while simultaneously increasing  available wetland habitat.

As a little hint for my next post I want you to look carefully at the next two pics... see anything in common?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mongolia Has A More Progressive Beaver Reintroduction Policy Than California

Ok so I have not written a post here in a bit - sorry my beaver faithful. Part of it is just frustration at the state of affairs in California with beaver policy and part of it is I just feel like I am repeating the same ol' story line to a small cadre of people who basically agree with me. Preaching to the choir if you will. It is also very distressing that after a good rainy start to the wet  season California, especially the southland, is heading into its fourth year in a row of drought. And megadroughts in the southwest might just be the new normal for the upcoming century. 

So I want to poke a little fun at California's archaic beaver policy - one in which it is illegal for wildlife management and private citizenry to relocate beaver into needed watersheds and/or relocate problem beavers. Which basically equates to nuisance beavers typically being "disappeared" as quietly as possible because people do not want to make the effort to coexist.

Now I had always heard about Mongolia having beaver- yeah that Mongolia of the Khans, the steppe, and the Gobi desert. Despite our image of dry desert plains Mongolia has a variety of habitats and in areas is wooded with actual running rivers. And in several of the rivers still reside Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) or sometimes referred to as the Sino-Mongolia beaver and given subspecies designation (Castor fiber birulai) - although a true subspecies designation is unlikely.

It turns out China maintains the Bulgan Beaver Nature Preserve near the border with Mongolia and which has a couple of hundred beaver. The Ulungur watershed, in China and Mongolia, of which the Beaver preserve is a part of is a little known area but due to its isolation has served as bit of a refuge for Eurasian beaver while most of the rest of the continent has lost its beaver.

But what got a little media attention in 2012 was the good news that Mongolia was set to reestablish beavers gifted from Germany and Russia on the third largest river in the country - the river Tuul. This river, which flows through and nourishes the capital and largest city Ulaanbataar, has as of late been plagued with diminishing flows and pollution. Reintroduction of beaver in this watershed, so it is hoped, can attenuate diminishing flows and bolster the sagging wetlands along the river which were in the past reportedly some of the most picturesque in central Asia.

The French missionary Jean-Francois Gerbillon, who traveled many times through Mongolia, gave a description of the Tuul river in his Journal entry dated August 3, 1698:
This River (Tula) takes it source in the Kentay mountains, a 120 li from the Kerlon river. At first it flows South-West. Then it makes a direct turn towards the West after passing a mountain (Mount Bogd Khan Uul in southern Ulan Bator) at the foot of which we camped and which is located precisely to the West of the place where the small Terelki River empties into the Tula. It is much bigger than the Kerlon. Its waters are extraordinarily clear and flows over a bed of river stones. Nothing approaches the agreeableness of its banks in all the extent of the plain. Its banks are covered in beautiful woods. Because the river divides into many branches, separating and rejoining, it forms quite a few small islands, full of diverse trees very thick and bushy, which are the most agreeable trees in the world and which offered a delicious freshness in the great heat where we were. The current of this River is very rapid. Beyond the trees, on one side and the other, one can see an abundantly fertile prairie. In one word, it is the most agreeable Canton that I ever remember seeing in all
Tuul River, Mongolia. public domain.

One wonders how much beaver played a role in the once stunning and fertile river valley of the Tuul and if they can do it again. The Khan would be pleased.

As I looked into this beaver reintroduction campaign I noted that Mongolia first announced their plans in 2012 and from what I gather were set for the long haul in terms of instigating a robust reintroduction campaign. But that was a couple of years ago and I have not heard anything as of late with regards to reintroduction happening. Anybody hear anything from Mongolia???

It should be interesting to watch how beaver reintroduction in Mongolia plays out. While Mongolia's neighbors of China and Russia get all the attention, Mongolia has quietly been growing economically and culturally. Mineral wealth has stimulated the economy and the push pull of traditional culture/western influence is playing out as we speak in a population primarily under the age of 30. 

Water will no doubt play a crucial role in the future of this growing country.

Credit Marika Dee. Women pose at River Beach, popular spot for young people on bank of Tuul River outside Ulaanbataar. Insert hackneyed beaver pun.

Monday, December 22, 2014

State of the Beaver Address… Improving!!

As the year ends there are a lot of good things to be thankful for when it comes to beaver/human relations and there have been a lot of promising developments that encourage and emboldens the struggle for beaver believers.

On the local front we saw the publication of Lanman et al. Historical Range of Beaver in Coastal California: A Review of the Evidence which I discussed here. The paper which, well to put it no uncertain terms, justifies the blog you are reading as I am an advocate for restoring beaver to coastal southern Californian watersheds from which they have been extirpated. Although the paper did not set the world ablaze and there have been some critics - I think ultimately the paper will act as a slow burning ember and continually stoke the embers of restoration. Already we are seeing the conversation shift will several notable features (here and here) stating simply that beaver were in the past native to most of the state of California. And there has been no organized rebuttal to the paper even though the CDFW still seems to posit beavers as non-native to most of the state (ironically they published the paper). But the CDFW has changed their view in the past, they changed their view on wolves in the state last year did you notice? The thing with revolutions, especially academic ones, is that it takes years and sometimes decades to change entrenched notions. Sometimes many of the staunch opponents to new knowledge who serve as "gatekeepers" in a sense have to... how should I put it... well father time is undefeated and when the older crop dies off so does their entrenched ideas. And a younger generation takes over who came up with the knowledge always at hand. Oh and I just saw today, which my parents linked to me (yes they are in the beaver believer cult), an online article noting beaver benefits from the local free press. Beavers Can Help Rebuild California's Wetlands. Maybe I should write a larger piece for them in their dead tree edition that really highlights ventura counties connection to beaver - the Sespe River specimen from the Lanman paper was a cornerstone piece of evidence remember.

On a more personal note the Santa Ynez River beavers that I have been visiting and watching seem to have made it through the drought. Where they go and how they cope in a river that pretty much dries up completely for long stretches is still a mystery but I have my ideas. If you have not followed my complete series of posts on these amazingly adaptable beavers of the Santa Barbara wine country below is the complete rundown:

9/23/2013 Beaver Safari on the Santa Ynez River

3/24/2014 Beaver/Salmonid Workshop Part II: Santa Ynez Beaver Tour

5/1/2014 Beaver Safari on the Santa Ynez River Part II: Surviving the Drought

7/29/2014 Odds N' Ends. the most depressing documentation of a river pretty much turned into a dust bowl.

10/22/2014 Santa Ynez Beavers Pulling Through in the Drought despite the river completely drying up the beavers recolonized it with the return of flows from Cachuma reservoir!!

11/3/2014 The Blair Witch Beavers of the Santa Ynez River further evidence of beaver persistence and documentation of a novel method of river water diversion/modifying river flow by beavers? And some bearded guy posing in front of a beaver pond.

On a more big picture note this past year also saw the widely acclaimed and excellent NOVA documentary Leave it to Beavers. Which if you have not seen yet and have not forced your friends and family to watch stop what you are doing right now (well you can finish reading this post) and go watch it on youtube, NOVA/PBS, and it also available on netflix.

We also saw several western states in need of water such as New Mexico move in a direction towards proactive beaver programs and a growth in awareness and advocacy for beaver to restore wetlands/mitigate drought through a number of webinars/studies/articles to long to get into but these are encouraging and I don't think we have seen the peak yet!! The Beaver Believers documentary got funded. The Damnation film was released and met with critical acclaim and is also available to watch on Netflix. Although the film is not specifically about beavers - or even salmon per se - it does speak to a growing appreciation of natural behaving watersheds. And Patagonia, which produced the film, is a Ventura county company and several of the makers of the film are very pro-beaver and very interested in southern steelhead. 

Yes all of these developments (and more which I probably forgot) are encouraging and shine a light on the growing pro-beaver sentiment in  North America, and let's not forget over the pond in Scotland/England where similar struggles are occurring with regards to native vs non-native status, salmon movement etc etc. But I would be remiss if I were to suggest that there was not also bad news and I want to focus on two stories that also came up.

1) Beaver and invasive species. For me this is an issue of perspective and putting the onus where it belongs. Several papers have came out suggesting that beaver modifications can provide habitat for non-native species. I might diverge from some of my colleagues in the beaver believer movement on this one but it is no great controversy to me that the slow flowing waters of a beaver pond make great habitat for many of the prime suspects in California invasive species - crayfish, bullfrogs, carp, large/smallmouth bass - I have seen several of these species in beaver ponds first hand. What I take issue with is inculcating beaver as public enemy number one in non-native species problems and using the habitat that they create as an argument against protection/reintroduction. The onus has to go on the species that put the non-natives there in the first place, Homo sapiens, us. And if the CDFW does not come up with a comprehensive plan for dealing with invasive species, if they continue to stock lakes/reservoirs with them and collect fees for fishing for them, and CA lacks the public or private will to eradicate them: we might as well admit that invasives are here to stay. What often gets left out of the invasive species question with regards to beaver is that the LA river has no beaver in it and is 100% non-native fish species. There is not a native species left in that watershed!! Invasive species might just be the new normal and at least we can still have the herons, egrets, kingfishers, mergansers, white pelicans, and raptors that love to eat invasives and also love to fish in beaver ponds. 

2) Beavers and climate change. This one is patently ridiculous and am surprised it got the traction it got.  But a paper published recently here got some attention on the far right leaning news blog The Daily Caller here and also the science blog ZME here. Now I want to qualify this by pointing out that I emailed the lead author with my concerns over his study several days ago and put him on notice that I was going to be critically discussing his paper in the future and that if he had some words in his defense now was the time to let it be known. Crickets chirping is the only sound I got back from him. With regards to the paper itself the study sought to quantify the amount of degassing methane arising from beaver ponds on the three continents that they live on. The paper took this quantification, the efflux of carbon from beaver ponds via methane, and used that number to suggest that growing and expanding beaver populations will further increase global warming at some appreciable levels (but far below what humans or even cows do). Now I hope you caught the big problem with this study - they only looked at eflux and not influx of carbon. All the wetlands beaver create, all that vegetation, the expanded riparian corridor, the stages of a beaver pond which often silt in and go back to rich canopy forest - all of those factors which suck up tons of carbon from the atmosphere and often sequester it away underground were not looked at in factoring out the total carbon balance of influx/efflux of carbon in beaver mediated wetlands. That is a damming indictment on this study!! In fact I think it very much more reasonable to hypothesize beaver wetlands sequester away much more carbon from the atmosphere than they put into it!! As to how this study got published, peer reviewed and so on we can only speculate. But the real damage done is towards the casual reader of articles noting this study and simply equating beavers with global warming via methane outgassing.

Now for the Daily Caller article I am sure it is no surprise to you that the writer did not take a critical look at the obvious problems with this study. But the article did say this towards the end: "Does this mean that the government will have to start regulating beaver dams? Or maybe culling certain amounts of beavers every year? Only time will tell?" Now for such a reactionary, right leaning blog you can imagine how the comments section went - the commentators went straight into hackneyed beaver puns or climate change denier mode of course!! Which means my comments, which were negative towards the paper (but not towards the reality of anthropogenic climate change) got upvoted to number one probably because a lot of readers conflated my criticism with a criticism of climate change in general!! Irony, sweet-sweet irony. And if you read further you can see where I demolish a commentator's assertion that the near extermination of beavers saved untold millions from the ravages of Hantavirus. I won. That being said wading into the morass of the comments section is a soul destroying venture but you gotta do the dirty work sometimes...

As for the ZME article, which does take a more nuanced tone and notes that the methane outgassing from beaver ponds is paltry compared to other natural/manmade sources, it was still distressing because it gave a platform to a study with some obvious flaws and it is a purported science blog. The author who wrote it even has a background in geophysics and interest in environmental protection. Looks like a good background to catch some obvious flaws and maybe even make a good beaver ally? But nope. He published the post without doing due dilligence. After I called him out for it and linked to the exact article (which he did not bother to do on his own blog) he deleted one of my posts and offered no apology for his oversight. So Mihai Andrei the below picture is for you but you did worse because it was not a facebook post but a science blog post with which you you gave avenue to a misleading paper. 

Ok, Ok end of rant. To sandwich the bad news with some good news and for your winter wonderment I give you this:

Lake Elmo Winter Beavers photographed by John Warner (story here is not so magickal)

and probably the best thing I have read on beavers in a while, and a beautiful free xmas present to the world is the outstanding ebook with loads of info/photographs and all kinds of awesome stuff I did not even know (that beaver eat horsetails!?! that stuff is full of silica!!) It's free check it out!!

Beavers By the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau Alaska by Mary F. Willson & Robert H. Armstrong

Merry Xmas & Happy New Year!! Cheers!!

The Most Epic Beaver Dam Ever? Bob Armstrong, Mendenhall Glacier Alaska

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

When Communities Don't Take Ownership Of Their Rivers Guess Who Does?

Although this is a blog about beavers, specifically in southern California, any talk of beavers naturally lends itself into a very META analysis of water and watersheds in general. This post definitely falls under this banner.

The above is a picture taken underneath the Victoria bridge overpass of the Santa Clara river which straddles the cities of Oxnard and Ventura in Ventura county. Now regardless of your opinion of "graffiti art" - I quite like and would draw a distinct line between this and "graffiti tagging" - I highlight this picture because when communities are cut off from their rivers, or more often than not lawfully forbidden from entering their rivers, guess who takes sole ownership of said rivers? These abandoned rivers become the province of the homeless, the dispossessed, the drug dependent, and the artists who can't find a canvas elsewhere. My point here is not to bash these groups; the path towards addressing these social issues is obviously beyond the scope of this post. But I find a disconnect in many of our communities in that the rivers that should be the jewel of our urban, suburban, or rural communities - usually becomes the last recompense of some of the most marginalized groups in said communities. And that these marginalized groups find haven in rivers, does not speak well too the value many communities places on these rivers, de facto viewing rivers themselves as marginalized pieces of the landscape. And like the marginalized groups inhabiting them, avoiding at all costs to personalize, make contact with, engage with, or hold in high esteem at all. Instead forget, ignore, and marginalize the rivers that houses said groups further.

A relatively too frequent thing happens when I engage people who live in a community about a river that flows through that same community. Usually they do not even know the name of the river I speak of and will something to the effect of, "Oh you mean that thing that floods occasionally that I cross on the 101 freeway? Yeah I usually think of it as a big drainage ditch and don't go down there because there are a lot of dangerous homeless and drug addicts living in it."

And the above sentiment is pretty much par for the course. Apathy no doubt has crept in. But it is not entirely the fault of the person in question. Communities are literally cut off from their rivers by signs legally prohibiting them from entering, by walls, fences, and private property. No wonder the apathy and disinterest when people are not even allowed to get in physical proximity to the rivers in their very own communities. When rivers are outlawed only outlaws live in rivers.

Santa Clara River. Santa Paula. great potential beaver habitat btw
Interestingly a strange thing occurs, at least here in southern California, when a river is restored or revitalized - said revitalization efforts pay a nod to the ecological health of the river, but emphasis is geared more towards making the river a "human playground". Recently the Santa Ana River has received attention for restoration efforts, but in all actuality the "restoration" is nominal, the push is towards making the river navigable for kayaks and rafting. Here is a line lifted directly from the abc news report:

"There is a big push to reclaim the Santa Ana River. It's become overrun with vegetation and rocks, but now a local group is working to clear the waterway for kayaking and rafting."

Video and Link Here. Now let's unpack that statement a bit. They use the word "reclaim", but reclaim for what or better yet for whom? And then the zinger "overrun with vegetation and rocks". Now it would be one thing if they were talking about invasive arundo reed or rocks/concrete dumped by humans. But they are not. Rocks and vegetation are natural and beneficial parts of a river for crying out loud. What they are referring to, if you watch the video or read article, is naturally occurring willow/cottonwood trees that line the river. Good things. Even in restoration efforts we can't seem to stop wanting to control/modify/or usurp rivers for our own purposes. Why do we have to make rivers "playgrounds" for people. Can't we just let a river be a river?

Can we strike a compromise between complete apathy of our watersheds/rivers to total control/augmentation/human mediated use?