Sunday, July 14, 2013

First Post!!! Interview with Heidi Perryman of Worth a Dam/Martinez

HelloGoodbye. Cheryl Reynolds (c)

Hello there beaver-believers and future converts. I hope you enjoy this blog and get something from it. It is my hope that this blog will stimulate thought and awareness about beavers and how North America, from the deserts of Mexico to the Canadian taiga was once a beaver modified continent. This was a "well-watered land" and beaver, prior to extensive fur trapping, were an integral part of nearly all North American watersheds. I am focusing my efforts on southern California where much evidence is coming to light suggesting that this semi-arid landscape was once home to beaver. And beaver, especially in water limited environments, have profound influence in these habits.

My first post however will be an interview with Heidi Perryman. She is president of Worth a Dam, a non-profit dedicated to maintaining the recently repatriated beavers of Martinez California (Bay Area).
Heidi Perryman
She is also author of probably the best site on the web for all things beaver. You may also see her name on the comments threads for any news or articles to do with beavers as she is often first to arrive and comment.

Taken together her blog, outreach, non-profit and festival have set a standard and benchmark for how humans can coexist with beavers. Her and the work of her non-profit offer much in the way for how future ventures to maintain and expand beaver populations can be addressed.

Hope you enjoy....

Email Interview With Heidi Perryman. President of Worth a Dam and author

1) Can you tell us a little about yourself? Work history, education, career, family etc

I was born in Martinez in a large Catholic family and have lived here all my life. I’m a child psychologist which means I have a doctorate in psychology and worked for 10 years in at the local day care while attending school.

2) Why beavers? When did you know that you wanted to dedicate yourself to beaver advocacy, outreach, education? Any "A-HA" moment?

I became interested when a colony moved into our local creek and I started filming them just because they were interesting. When our city responded that their dam caused a flooding risk and they were going to be killed, I got more involved. I wrote articles for the local newspaper and urged folks to think about humane solutions. When public opinion forced the city to change its mind, I served on the “beaver subcommittee” to look at the possibility of co-existing with urban beavers. Because I could see it was going to take ongoing pressure to get our city to do the right thing, I started the group “Worth A Dam” and organized the first Beaver Festival that summer. I started working on maintaining a website about the beavers.

Maybe if I had thought that the city was going to do the right thing all along I would have backed off and went quietly about my normal life – but it has taken constant pressure to keep our beavers safe. I was curious about how other cities managed beaver issues because I assumed they could teach us something. What I learned was that in almost every city beavers are greeted with a very similar mixture of  panic and ignorance, and that made me want to help other cities think better about beaver issues. I wanted to provide the tools for others to do what we did.

3) Tell us about how beaver have transformed the creek in Martinez...what was the creek like before.... how has it changed... maybe discuss a little bit about how beaver ponds change over time and are eventually abandoned.

Very soon after the dam (s) were built we saw changes in the wildlife that visited and frequented the creek. Green heron, snowy egret, belted kingfisher – these had once been rare visitors but soon they were always in residence. Pond turtle, muskrat and otter became frequent sightings. One summer we started seeing mink, which hadn’t been spotted for many years. Three new species of fish were identified from photos like this one by Worth A Dam’s Cheryl Reynolds. When we installed the flow device and lowered the dam the beavers built a series of secondary dams to expand their territory. Now we see night heron, great blue heron, and hooded merganser. We are constantly surprised with new species at the beaver dam.

Green Heron w/Sacramento Splitail Cheryl Reynolds (c)
Our site has been actively maintained for 6 years, and the beavers don’t appear to be moving on any time soon.

4) Where do municipalities get it wrong with beavers? Any examples of how some get it right?

I think cities misunderstand their options and make a choice that they believe will save money and time. What they don’t understand is that trapping is a short-term solution that will need to be paid for and repeated again and again when new beavers colonize adequate habitat. If you install a flow device, and allow the beavers to remain, their own territorial behaviors will keep others away.

5) Why is there such resistance to beavers? Is it because they are seen as "rodents" and therefore vermin?

Certainly I don’t think the rodent label helps because people assume it means exploding populations. But even if beavers weren’t rodents they’d still get negative attention. They block culverts, flood roads, chew trees and get noticed. They’re persistent and when we tear down something they make they build it again. Most of their work occurs at night, so folks rarely get to see the animals themselves. And even when they do, their lumbering shape, small eyes and ears don’t lend themselves to being called “cute” (although I think they’re adorable)

Heidi Perryman (c)

6) Furthermore why do you think scientists are only starting to appreciate that North America was at one point a continent of beavers and that their presence is pivotal for ecologically sound environments here?

I don’t think scientists are just ‘starting’.  Native Americans called them the ‘sacred center’ centuries ago. 150 years ago Lewis Henry Morgan devoted an entire book to them. Enos Mills called beaver the original conservationist 100 years ago, and Fish & Game thought they were important enough to reintroduce them in every state after the decimation of the fur trade. From a practical point of view I’m sure no one got much funding for saying vociferously how good beaver were for the environment during the fur trade.
7) I have read on your blog that dealing with beavers merely entails humans to be smarter than beavers...can you elaborate..maybe example of beaver devices.

Sure. The two most used flow devices control pond height or prevent beaver damming of culverts. The beaver deceiver is a trapezoidal culvert fence invented by Skip Lisle (who installed our flow device). It is very effective at preventing beavers from damming a culvert. This video can explain how it works.

The other common problem is pond height, which is what we had in Martinez. That is fixed by installing a pipe through the dam (either called a Castor Master or Flexible Leveler) Both have protected intakes that prevent the beaver from feeling the suction or the outflow of the water.

Another common problem is tree chewing,which  can be prevented by wrapping the tree with wire (not chicken wire because beavers are way bigger than chickens!) or painting it with sand.

8) What are some facts about beavers that are little recognized even among those who study beaver...what are some common misconceptions.

Good question. I’m constantly reminded that beaver impacts on streams are woefully misunderstood even by the folks who should know better. A common myth I hear is that beavers will eat themselves “out of house and home”. Folks fail to take into account the important influence  of coppice cutting, meaning that a tree will grow back bushy and more dense when it is hard cut. This means that beavers result in ideal nesting habitat for migratory and songbirds, and that beaver wetlands actually increase the riparian border.  But the primary fact that seems to elude biologists is a) how important beavers are to the watershed, and b) how solvable the problems they cause actually are.

9) Based on your experience with dealing with beavers/municipalities/politics etc- what advice would you give to others seeking to emulate your work in their own city? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Hmm, idenitying real solutions that will work is necessary – but it’s not sufficient. You have to get their attention first in order to teach them anything. I have often said that the most effective thing we did was involve children – children’s art, children’s learning, field trips, children with beaver tails. That got the attention of the media and forced the council to pay attention. It took me a while to learn that. I thought folks would listen just because what I was saying was important.

11) It seems every few weeks beaver are springing up in different places all over the Bay area....What are some of the watersheds in the Bay area that you believe are ripe for beaver recolonization? 

Ha. The ones with water and trees in them. Remember beavers can live in water as saline as 10 parts per thousand.

10) What excites you the most about the future of beaver in North America? Anything you want to add?

I would add that that the beaver-believers of the world do seem to be gaining a momentum – not turning a corner because god knows we can (and do) turn back any moment, but the number of folks who care about this issue has gone from 3 in every state to 300, and that matters. Since I follow international reporting on beavers, I can say for sure that the number of articles on positive beaver impacts has definitely gone up. And as we head toward the growing drought impact of climate change, beavers are going to become an increasingly referenced tool for water storage. When we were trying to wrestle with the problems of tolerating urban beavers there were three single spaced pages of information about what to do on the entire web. I’m very happy to say that the answers are much easier to find now.

In addition to this informative interview Heidi also provided some excellent links for those with further interest.

A great starter on beavers: Furry Woodsmen Excel at Forestry

Mike Callahan. Beaver Solutions

The Ballad of the Martinez Beavers

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  1. Duane! It is so nice to read a positive voice for beavers in Southern California! Great site and I'm looking forward to reading it in the future. I'll make sure you're on our blogroll!


  2. Very exciting to think of the potential for beaver in southern California to restore wetlands, perennialize formerly seasonal streams, and create habitat for all kinds of species including the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher, least Bell's vireo, western pond turtle, California red-legged frog, not to mention southern steelhead trout!

  3. Great post, and thanks for sharing Heidi with others!

  4. Nice post! This is a very nice blog that I will definitively come back to more times this year! Thanks for informative post.
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