|Cheryl Reynolds. Worth A Dam|
"We have the least understanding of any state on what used to live here."
Rick Lanman, Institute of Historical Ecology
"I knew this assumption that beaver were never in the Bay Area was bogus just from life experience. There was a beaver right under I-680 when I would drive home. I knew they were there."
Heidi Perryman, Martinez Beavers/Worth a Dam
I want to concentrate on this next quote by Brock Dolman of the Water Institute at Occidental College as it pertains directly to the question of beavers at the limit of their range in coastal California, namely southern California.
"We felt the missing piece was that beaver were never as numerous (as otters) and a group of native folks set on capturing them wouldn't take long in eradicating them, especially in riparian systems where there is not a lot of room to move."
Now I think this quote really contains a lot of good stuff but I think it might go over a lot of people's heads. First off we should clarify that otter refers to sea otter, and they roamed all the way down into Baja. And they were ruthlessly hunted for their pelts by fur trappers. Once the sea otters started getting low in number trappers looked at what else was around. By supplying native Americans with steel traps, the wary and elusive beaver - normally a difficult quarry - was now an easy and reliable source of fur to trade with the Europeans. Now with this in mind we must remind ourselves that coastal California, especially getting into southern California, never had the water and therefore the population of beavers that areas like the delta or wetter parts of the continent had. Each watershed may have had very low or even ephemeral populations of beavers even before trapping commenced. It is entirely possible that beaver would become locally extinct in a watershed and then reestablished several times over even without human interference. There was in all probability a waxing and waning of beaver populations at the limits of their range, becoming more pronounced into southern California. Keep in mind that even without human intervention California has seen some serious droughts in the not so distant past - which by themselves limited beaver populations in California.
|Jaguar in southern California painting by Laura Cunningham|
I also think, when discussing beaver at the limits of their range. it useful to talk about jaguar in California. Yes jaguar ranged perhaps as far north as the Bay area historically. If you do some Internet sleuthing you will come across records of jaguar in Palm Springs and Monterey, California. But jaguar were rare here in California even before European colonization. They were at the northern limit of their range. In all probability jaguar sporadically made it further up into the Pacific Northwest or Rocky mountains. But we will probably never find good records of them there as they were exceedingly rare even in the best of times. Likewise even in areas where they maintained populations we may never see records of them there. I think a similar situation is going on with the spotty record of beaver on the coast especially in southern California. They were never that common to begin with.
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