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Shoring up beaver protection

In nod to their ‘ecological benefit’

California aims to tap beavers, once viewed as a nuisance, to help with water issues and wildfires
Beavers have long been treated as a nuisance for chewing down trees and shrubs and blocking up streams

California Embracing Beavers

Godofredo A. Vásquez/AP

(AP) — For years, beavers have been treated as an annoyance for chewing trees and shrubs and blocking streams, leading to flooding in neighborhoods and farms. But California recently changed its tune and is embracing the animals that can create lush habitats that lure species back into now-urban areas, enhance groundwater supplies and buffer against the threat of wildfires.

A new policy that went into effect last month encourages landowners and agencies dealing with beaver damage to seek solutions such as putting flow devices in streams or protective wrap on trees before seeking permission from the state to kill the animals. California is also running pilot projects to relocate beavers.

“There’s been this major paradigm shift throughout the West where people have really transitioned from viewing beavers strictly as a nuisance species, and recognizing them for the ecological benefits that they have,” said Valerie Cook, beaver restoration program manager for California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

After years of trapping, attempts at reintroduction, and then removal under depredation permits, beavers — once numerous in California — are found in much smaller numbers than they once were. It is unknown just how many beavers live in the state, but hundreds of permits are sought by landowners each year that typically allow them to kill the animals. Biologists say the beaver population in North America used to range between 100 million and 200 million, but now totals between 10 million and 15 million.

Kate Lundquist, director of the WATER Institute at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, said she expects California’s changes to lead to a growth in wetland spaces, and that the past three years of drought and wildfires contributed to the state’s shift on beavers.

“There has been increased motivation to identify and fund the implementation of nature-based, climate-smart solutions,” she said. “Beaver restoration is just that.”

Beavers live in family units and build dams on streams, creating ponds. The pools help slow the flow of water, replenishing groundwater supplies, and can also stall the spread of wildfires, said Emily Fairfax, professor of environmental science and management at California State University, Channel Islands.

“You talk to anyone who has lived near beaver ponds. They’ll tell you: These things don’t burn,” said Fairfax.

Beavers are not a protected species but help create habitat that is critical for species that are, such as the coho salmon. Young salmon grow and thrive in beaver ponds before heading to the ocean, which gives them a better shot at survival, said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center.

California will continue to issue depredation permits as needed, but the state wants people to try other solutions before resorting to killing the animals, officials said. Those could be wrapping trees with wire mesh or using flow devices on streams to control beaver pond levels to prevent flooding.

In some cases, solutions may involve relocating beavers to places that want them. Vicky Monroe, conflict programs coordinator for California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, said her office has long received requests from groups that want beavers, but the state didn’t have a mechanism to legally move them until recently.

California has planned two pilot relocation projects, including one to bring beavers back to the Tule River later this year.

“We’re going to give these beavers a chance to do what they do naturally in a place where they’re wanted,” said Kenneth McDarment, a Tule River Indian Tribe council member. The tribe started seeking ways to reintroduce beavers nearly a decade ago.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Photo: Beaver by @savannahroseburgess

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