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?

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Blair Witch Beavers of the Santa Ynez River

All right today I want to go over my idea on what the hell those intrepid beavers of the Santa Ynez River were doing making all those strange rock piles across the river when the river was essentially drying up. They were not making the beginning stages of a dam but were instead actively hydro engineering the river itself to best suit their needs!!! This is my working hypothesis and let me explain my reasoning.

As I have mentioned in several past posts the Santa Ynez is a human modified river in terms of flow. It largely dries up starting in spring depending on how much rain we get. Water is usually released late summer/early fall to satisfy downstream senior water rights. Beaver on this river have adapted to this unusual water regime for at least several decades since reintroduction in the middle of the last century (but remnant endemic populations can not be ruled out).

Above is a pic of the unique rock constructions I am talking about. This pic was photographed in late April 2014 and the river was already well on its way to drying up. Upstream is a section of small, rocky riffles and above that is what I believe to be an old disused beaver pond. Immediately downstream is a slower section of river and a new dam under construction and a potential beaver bank burrow I have located. (New readers should be aware that humans constructing these rock piles is unlikely as there is no path here and only a steep bank and marshy area on the right side - a residential area is nearby to the left however)

This is a picture of the beginning of a new dam taken in late April 2014 a little downstream of the above rock piles.

Now above is a picture of the river with substantial flow from a late season water release taken in October at the location of the strange rock piles pictured above. What you can see is that when water hits the first pile of rocks it forces it slow down and spread out - a speed bump. The water also has substantially eroded the bank on the other side creating a nice deep pool where there was not one before. In a sense accentuating a nice thalweg.

In this pic above you are looking at the second pile of rocks. Water, after it has flowed over the first pile of rocks and starts to erode and enlarge the hole is held back a bit by the second pile of rocks to further increase the "thalweg" effect.

So what in a sense the beavers are doing is modifying a section of the river that runs relatively fast - a riffle section, not great habitat for a beaver due to the lack of swimmable sections and sparse vegetation - and using the power of the moving water to carve out a deeper pool and create more amenable habitat and slower flow which the beaver prefer. What is not pictured is that a few meters away from this thalweg is a marshy creek area. Separating the river and this marshy area is more rocks and debris. Given enough time and erosive potential of the river I think that the two area can merge over time. I will monitor this.

What should not go understated is that the bulk of this activity was underway before there was any substantial water flow at all. The beaver were not only actively managing where and how the water flowed but they were predicting the return of the water flow itself.

Pretty cool no? These beaver never cease to amaze me making a go at it in the ephemeral Santa Ynez River.

And a bearded bad ass in front of a beaver pond.

And a big dump of youtube clips from the same excursion in October.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Santa Ynez River Beavers Pulling Through in the Drought

It was with some trepidation that I returned to my study site on the Santa Ynez River on Sunday October 12th 2014. The good news is that a water release was ongoing from Cachuma Reservior (senior water rights is a powerful thing even in drought years!), what I was worried about was that the period of no water was potentially devastating to the beaver. After all the last time I went to this area in late July it was bone dry - so dry the willows and cottonwoods were prematurely shedding their leaves and the only water left was a greasy little pool.

Dry Santa Ynez River late July
In areas where I had found abundant and fresh beaver sign - freshly knawed/felled trees, pulled up cattails, bank burrow slide marks - I found no sign of recent beaver activity. Do they move up or down the river to other sources of water? There is always some release from Cachuma to feed a steelhead creek and there is wastewater release year round further downstream. Or do they seek refuge in golf ponds? There are several golf ponds nearby. Both hypotheses are possible and not necessarily mutually exclusive at this point and not outside the adaptive potential of this animal. The golf pond hypothesis seems more tenable given that upstream and downstream movements towards water would entail movements of several kilometers, with kits in tow potentially, and traversing through other beavers territories. But then again although this drought is exceptional there is always some degree of drying of this river annually after the winter/spring rains and before the first release from Cachuma (usually Sep/Oct). Given that this beaver population, descended as it is from a few individuals released by CDFW in the middle of the last century, is more or less kissing cousins - perhaps territorial claims are lessened a bit in drought times? But that this population has adapted to this unusual water regime over several decades, and survived other droughts before, gave me some glimmer of hope that they indeed had found ways to survive the drought conditions and came back.

The beavers did not disappoint.

The first tentative signs of beaver activity were adjacent to a large beaver pond which can actually be seen to the right in the picture above. Beaver have siphoned off a little side channel to the right and created a nice big pool.

As you can see the vegetation/trees are brown - a testament to how dry the river got. As I investigated the pool I found several trail marks and side channels suggestive of beaver movement between this pool and the main river channel.

They might not be too obvious from the pics these were definite trails/paths created by something going from the pool to the river. That they were created by beaver most likely was substantiated by a recently knawed tree:

All together this was some very promising observation of beaver sign and good evidence hat they had came back into this area of the river. But I was very eager to revisit an interesting area upriver where over the last several months I observed some very suspicious rock piles appearing on the river. Yes these rock piles were either the work of beaver, people, or the Blair Witch.

Here are some pics from May when the river was already well underway in drying up:

From May 2014
As you can they are definite piles of rocks and many people who saw the pics felt that humans had constructed them. What argues against these three rock bridges being constructed by humans is; they are not on a path or hiking trail; on the other side is a steep unscalable oak shrouded hill and cattail marsh; and interestingly as seen on the bottom pic there are two adjacent rock piles. Why would people create two adjacent rock walkways so close in an area of the river that is easily traversed anyways?

from July 2014
With the return of substantial flows to the river on this trip I had my answers and I can almost unequivocally say that these rock piles were created by beaver.

The above pic is actually the single rock pile seen in the pic above. Obvious that the rocks placed down were actually the foundation for what is now seen to be an obvious and growing beaver dam. Not only was the rock pile created by beaver but they were making it as the river was drying up and anticipating the return of water flows. Very Cool.

But what about the twim set of rock piles? Just as it is hard to imagine why humans would construct such a weird design, why would beaver make such a funny design - surely in this stretch of the river, moving at high velocity, it was not an ideal spot to place a dam?

Well if you want to know what my working hypothesis is for those strange Blair-Witch beaver rock pile designs you will just have to tune in later as I will explore this facet and other things I saw on the Santa Ynez River in a later post!!!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sespe Creek is Hurting in the Drought

Sespe Creek. Duane Nash 9/29/14
In the Ventura county back country is a special creek and wildlife area - the Sespe wilderness area. Not only is it undammed and relatively pristine compared to other southern Californian watersheds - the creek and it's surrounding watershed serve as critical habitat for California condors, desert bighorn sheep (following a successful reintroduction campaign), southern steelhead trout, arroyo toad, red-legged frog, western pond turtle, pacific lamprey, numerous threatened riparian/chaparral birds and many other species. This wilderness was also a last holdout for California grizzly and today still hosts black bear, puma, bobcat, coyote, and badger among other predators. And oh yeah, the story of beaver in California - and especially southern California - is intimately linked with the Sespe (from Lanman et. al. 2013):

A MaNIS search combined with
direct inquiries to California museums for pre-1923 Castor specimens located only a single
vouchered specimen. That specimen, a beaver skull (catalogued MVZ Mammals 4918)
was collected by John Hornung on 19 May 1906 on Sespe Creek, a tributary of the Santa
Clara River, Ventura County. Grinnell (1937) was hesitant to accept the provenance of
this specimen and placed a question mark by its location on his range map. Hornung, an
NHMLAC zoologist, had collected many specimens for the MVZ as well as the American
Museum of Natural History (Loomis 1901, Osborn 1910) and CAS (Howell 1923). Recently
digitized correspondence between Grinnell and Hornung has become available and settles
this longstanding question. When Grinnell wrote Hornung asking for further details regarding
the specimen; Hornung (1914:1-2) wrote back: “... In reference to the beaver, I will say
that I murdered the specimen in question 3 miles east of Cold Springs. I was on horseback
and saw on the river, enormously swollen as the date which you have [19 May 1906], what
appeared to me as a dead large dog surrounded by branches of a big stump. This stump
was swimming in the water, but anchored in a tangled mass of some kind of a vine. After
some maneuvering I could reach this animal with a stick. As soon as I touched it, it showed
its teeth, and I knew then what unexpected find I had made…A shot ended the animal’s
sufferings, and I secured the skull which you have…”. Hartman Cold Springs Ranch (34°
33’ N, 119° 15’ W) is located on upper Sespe Creek in the Sierra Madre Mountains at 1,025
m elevation and the creek along this stretch is quite low gradient, i.e. suitable beaver habitat.
Interestingly there is a Beaver Camp on the USGS GNIS at 1,000 m elevation about 1 km
east of Hartman Cold Springs Ranch, although its toponomastic origin is not known (Figure
3). In addition to the 1906 Sespe Creek beaver specimen, Hornung (1914:2) told Grinnell:
“There are still quite a few beaver in Southern California, myself being so lucky as to get
hold of one as late as Dec. 24, 1913, 3 weeks ago.”

Interestingly sporadic/anecdotal beaver sightings occurred right up until the 2000's. My own middle school biology teacher, Tim Peddicord, recalls seeing a beaver in Lions Creek ( a tributary to Sespe) in the 1960's. Whether or not the sightings are due to remnants of an original population or translocations that the CDFG did in the middle of the 20th century is anyones guess. And whether or not beaver are still holding out in isolated pockets of the Sespe is a (remote) possibility as well. I did notice some interesting and suggestive features on the Sespe when I recently went up and down it with GEOlocate.

Now most likely the suggestion of beaver activity in these pictures is just that - a suggestion - but there is the possibility that these features are the result of ancient beaver dams. The Sespe is known for deep pools that retain water during the dry season and which serve as refugia for fish and other aquatic organisms. Below is a picture of one such pool in wetter times after the last rainy season.

Such deep, permanent and snow melt fed pools (it is at about 3000') of course are the exact sort of place rainbow trout - or a beaver - can make a home of. And altogether the relative isolation (i.e. lack of conflict with agriculture/man), abundance of habitat, historical occurrence there, potential benefit to fisheries/other riparian species, low gradient, and history of species reintroduction in the area (desert bighorn sheep/California  condor) puts the Sespe wilderness high on my personal list of watersheds in southern California that beaver SHOULD be put back into.

Potential difficulties include the lack of political will on the part of the CDFW services to 1) finally admit they are native 2) come up with a comprehensive management/restoration plan.

And as noted earlier there are abundant predators in the Sespe so any reintroduction should be into spots with year round water/deep pools/hiding spots/alluvial banks for bank burrows.

And another difficulty for beaver in the Sespe, indeed all of California: Is this drought simply the new normal?

Now I know that is a disturbing and alarming thought but a controversial paper from Stanford scientists suggests that the stubborn high pressure ridge diverting storms away from California might be here to stay. Well at this point there are differing opinions and data - we shall see. Although it would not hurt to  plan for the worse.

But back to the Sespe. I got word from a friend on facebook that the pools were drying up and concentrating fish. Not just the small pools that may normally go dry... but the big, deep ones that generally always retain some water through the year. This was scary but, given that the Sespe is about 45 minutes away from me, I had to go check it out. Things did not look promising, when, as I drove through Rose Valley on the way to trailhead I noticed some failing pines (sugar pines?).

I honestly don't know if the trees are failing due to the drought or Japanes bark beetles - but as I was driving by a gun club I did not get out of my truck to investigate further. Depressing either way.

And when I got to Sespe Creek itself it has in fact, gone underground for long stretches.

The last picture is near the confluence of Lions Creek with Sespe Creek. For comparison below is a picture in the same area, in wetter times.

As I found out there were several deep pools that remained and offered hope for surviving fish and drinking water for the wildlife. I found one particularly nice, deep shaded pool after doing a little bushwhacking (and constantly checking for ticks/lions/bears).

And also the better known "Piedra Blanca pool" a well known swimming, diving pool was reduced to a grimy little wallow full of bullhead catfish and some unidentified fish (non-native) that kept biting and nibbling my hand when I put my hand in. I did not see any native trout but they were probably deeper amidst the rocks.

Anyways I have some youtube videos  I posted to my channel, feel free to subscribe and you will be my first subsribee!! I would post them here but blogger is giving me grief right now and not allowing that... 

Until I post again Cheers and Pray for Rain!!!

Black Bear paw print. Piedra Blanca Pool 9/29/14 Duane Nash