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.

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  1. Ebro Beaver Fifth ColumnFebruary 18, 2015 at 4:06 AM

    Hi!, I'm the Spanish anonymous of the other post. It's sad but also stimulating to see how some "Third World countries" can overtake our civilized ones in matters of conservation. As for the validity of eurasian beaver subspecies, I've ever thought that, when only a handful of isolated populations remained, it would be alluring to name them as different subspecies, to immortalize author's name. Of course, these populations named as C. f. elbae, C. f. gallicus, etc, have suffered from imbreeding, then they probably have some genetic distinctiveness, of the unhealthy type. This isn't a frivolous question, because nowadays, genetics rules, and such matters can mislead conservation efforts. E.g., after illegal reintroduction of beavers in the Ebro river, one of the pretexts exhibited to cull them was their origin, as these beavers came from the "mongrel" Bavarian reintroduced population (and admix of Scandinavian, German and French animals). Well, If I had to choose wether taking such a healthy hybrid stock, or the "pure" elbae subspecies, all its individuals descending from ca. 40 animals left in the Rhode Delta, I would take the former to found a new species nucleus. And this is the way Mongol people have done, it seems.

  2. Ebro Beaver Fifth ColumnFebruary 18, 2015 at 4:08 AM

    Sorry, I wanted to say "Rhone Delta"

  3. Thanks for commenting Ebro and thanks for putting yourself down with a name!! Yes it is both discouraging and heartening that less developed nations can sometimes move a little faster and pivot quicker than larger/more developed nations. Some say that in the US it is a good quality not to be able to pivot on issues/policies too quick as it is a bit of a safeguard from over radicalization/dictatorship but it does not help in the world of beaver policy. Yeah the whole species/subspecies question is a good one. A lot of it has to do with researchers trying to validate their own authorship.... unfortunate that it can be turned into a stumbling block in conservation... and also strange when the whole issue of what is a "species" is so vague anyways.

  4. Ebro Beaver Fifth ColumnFebruary 18, 2015 at 11:00 AM

    Thanks for this blog about beaver protection, I read your articles and can see many things shared by both Spain and California: landscapes, droughts and politicians that are not very beaver-friendly. I'm a rather rational and cold minded guy, I work with wild animals, always putting aside emotions, but since the first time I saw a beaver and took care of it, I needed to be engaged in beaver protection, I'm not alone, there is a real pro-beaver 5th column here, but anonymity is needed. I'm sure beavers will overcome, being them tough smart creatures. Our enhanced riparian woods and their inhabitants will be benefitted. Whatever the beaver genotypes involved.
    Pd:Glubs!, I've previously written "elbae" for "albicus" and "gallicus" for "galliae", maybe these names are rather spurious, but one must write them correctly.