Action Needed – A Campaign for NH’s Threatened and Endangered Species & To Save Our Wild Places For Generations!

October 26, 2020

Introduction

This campaign is to Save NH’s Threatened & Endangered Species (T&E) from development threats. We are working to keep RSA 212-A, NH’s Endangered Species Conservation Act (ESCA) strong. Our goal is to stop the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) and the NH Fish & Game Department (F&G) from weakening NH’s laws and regulations.

Background:

November 2019        

– The NH Supreme Court decided against DES and F&G to not let development projects minimize harm to T&E. The existing standard, that the court ruled to stand, was to have no adverse impact.

December 2019         

– In reaction to the court’s decision that DES did not like, DES removed the wording “no adverse impact” in its regulations for developers, thereby weakening the protection for T&E. 

August 2020  

– DES with F&G held a Public Input Session to discuss possible changes to regulations. They want to consider “monetary mitigation” for harm done to T&E species. This would be like the wetlands program called Aquatic Resources Mitigation by which a permittee pays money into a fund for destroying wetlands. To create a T&E Monetary Mitigation Program and allow harm to T&E would require filing legislation to change the NH Endangered Species Conservation Act.

October 29, 2020      

– DES with F&G will hold a second (and possibly last) Public Input Session about changing the regulations and law for both DES and F&G. These agencies are planning to take action that may be quite harmful to T&E. That is why we must begin to Take Action Now to stop any attempt to weaken the law and regulations that presently protect T&E. We don’t have to attend this meeting, but we must comment.

Attention

It is highly likely that DES and F&G will seek to change regulations and file legislation to change the ESCA so that developers can continue to invade T&E habitat and buy their right to impact T&E species negatively. A preview of what DES and F&G want to do everywhere is already happening in the southeastern town of Atkinson. DES (with F&G’s okay) has agreed to receive a $30,000 payment from the developer into the Aquatic Resources Mitigation Program for a project that impacts the T&E habitat, a project rightfully and strongly opposed by the Atkinson Conservation Commission. Please follow the Action below so we can stop more of this from happening in NH!

ACTION NEEDED (no deadline)

Please contact DES and F&G with your thoughts and include any of the following points as you wish:

1– For the sake of T&E survival, these animals must be protected from direct and indirect harm. Therefore, the prohibition in the law that developments must not harm T&E must continue and be enforced. We oppose weakening the NH Endangered Species Conservation Act to exempt developments.

2 – The health of T&E populations must not be for sale to developers. Do not weaken the NH Endangered Species Conservation Act to allow payment for harm. Agencies need to say NO to harming T&E species. Monetary mitigation is a disgusting scheme for developers.

3 – When development projects cannot be designed to do any harm to T&E, then they must not happen. Harmful projects are a matter of life or death for NH’s wildlife species.

4 – As the state agency in charge of the recovery of T&E species, F&G should be the leader to strengthen, not weaken, the ESCA. The law should be improved by the inclusion of the State’s Wildlife Action Plan (WAP) so that the WAP can serve as the official blueprint required to be followed by all state agencies to help with the conservation of T&E species.

Please Send Your Email

Send one email to both DES and F&G and remember to sign with your full name and address. Suggested Subject Line of your email – Do Not Weaken T&E laws and regulations.

Email to:

THOMAS.O’DONOVAN@DES.NH.GOV   [Dear Director Donovan]Thomas O’Donovan is the Director of the Water Division at NH Department of Environmental Services

Email to:       

Mark.Ellingwood@wildlife.nh.gov [Dear Chief of Wildlife Ellingwood] Mark Ellingwood is the Chief of the Wildlife Division at NH Fish & Game

“Thank you” for helping the wild animals of NH!

Please contact animalfriendlysolutions@comcast.net or 603 673 7389 for questions or comments.

Discussion for further information.

*The NH Endangered Species Conservation Act currently states that T&E are to be afforded such protections to maintain and enhance their population sizes. How can T&E species thrive when survival is placed second to development?

*NH’s T&E wildlife species are already in trouble – “imperiled,” meaning that they are at risk of being absent from NH in the future. NH must take the right steps now to save them, and one of those is to prevent developments from harming T&E species.

*Unfortunately for T&E, DES aims to approve as many development projects as possible even when the projects are in T&E habitat. Although the harm to T&E would be “minimized,” the effects on T&E survival would be negative, contrary to the purpose of the ESCA, which is to help T&E maintain and increase their population sizes.

*DES and F&G are allowing direct harm, such as removing animals, and indirect harm, such as blocking access to their habitat, to occur to T&E by approving development permits. These permits are causing loss and fragmentation to necessary wildlife habitat.

*The “monetary mitigation” scheme is an ultimate betrayal that would allow developers to buy rights to harm T&E. This is biologically unsustainable.

Threatened Blanding Turtle
NH’s Endangered Blanding’s Turtle

Report Card for our NH Lawmakers

After following NH legislation for animals in the legislative Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee (FGMR) for the 2019-2020 sessions we know who the friends of the animals are, and who are not. We are mainly going by wildlife legislation VOW was most involved in – HB 442 of 2019 and HB 1571 of 2020.

Sponsored by Representative Ellen Read, HB 442 of 2019 would have protected coyotes while raising their young by prohibiting hunting during the months of April 1 until August 31. Coyotes are important predators who are hunted year-round in NH.

Also sponsored by Representative Ellen Read, HB 1571 of 2020 was the bill to change the qualifications of the NH Fish and Game Commissioners so that other stakeholders could be Commissioners rather than just those who hunt, fish, or trap.

Both bills were voted itl (Inexpedient to Legislate) in the FGMR Committee but not until and after a tireless and righteous fight by the sponsor.

Report Card for the Members of the FGMR Committee. For any questions email voicesofwildlifeinnh@gmail.com

  • Representative Ellen Read, Newmarket – A+
  • Representative Kathy Stack, Merrimack – A
  • Representative Mary Eisner, Derry – A
  • Representative Jim Bosman, Francestown – A
  • Representative Sparky Von Plinsky, Keene – A
  • Representative Dennis Ruprecht, Landaff – A
  • Representative Timothy Egan, Sugar Hill – B
  • Representative Mark King, Hillsborough – F
  • Representative Cathryn Harvey, Spofford – F
  • Representative Larry LaFlamme, Berlin – F
  • Representative Roger Dontonville, Enfield – F
  • Representative James Webb, Derry – F
  • Representative Robert L’Heureux, Merrimack – F
  • Representative David Love, Derry – F
  • Representative John Klose, Epsom – F
  • Representative Ed Comeau, Brookfield – F
  • Representative Raymond Howard, Alton – F
  • Representative Aboul Khan, Seabrook – F
  • Representative Kevin Craig, Lancaster – F
  • Representative Frank Kowtowski, Hooksett – F

If your Representative is not on the FGMR Committee but you would like to see how they voted on HB1571 go HERE A yea vote on this Roll Call is a vote against the animals.

Important Notice: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, out of an abundance of caution the General Court has suspended all legislative activities through May 4th. During this time, the State House will be closed to legislative members, legislative staff, and visitors. – from nh.gov

This shutdown is a good time for constituents to contact their lawmakers. Thank them if they made good votes for the wild animals of NH. If they didn’t, ask them why and let them know how you feel. They work for you!

VOW, a registered NH non-profit 501(c)(4), works to protect NH’s wildlife by advocating for legislation and regulations and conducts research into elected official’s positions and voting records regarding these issues and to publicize those results.

NH Coyotes in the News

Experts howl at ‘coywolf’ headlines; limited NH hunting season called for

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News
January 13. 2018 8:08PM

Eastern coyotes have some wolf DNA, but New Hampshire experts say the animals are still just coyotes, so the moniker making headlines lately — “coywolf” — does not apply. (Christine Schadler)

A wildlife advocacy group is asking the state Fish and Game Department to shorten the season on coyote hunting, currently allowed year-round.

The petition by Voices of Wildlife in New Hampshire, which calls for a hunting season from Oct. 15 through March 31, will come before the Fish and Game Commission in Concord on Wednesday at 1 p.m.

Coyotes are “the most persecuted of all the wild animals,” says Linda Dionne of Raymond, VOW’s president. “They’re the only fur-bearer right now that has open season all year long.”

The petition, which is supported by the Humane Society of the United States, is likely to reignite a long-standing debate about the value of these wild creatures.

Many consider them varmints, a threat to deer, livestock and domestic pets. But others believe they play a critical role in New Hampshire’s ecosystem, preying largely on rodents and other pests while keeping the deer herd healthy by culling the weakest animals.

The debate also comes amid alarming media reports from other states about the animal. A Fox News report warned of a “coywolf,” a “mutant animal” stalking people and pets in a suburb of New York City “as authorities try to track down the beasts.”

There’s just one problem, experts here say: There’s no such thing.

“It’s not a phrase that biologists use,” says Christine Schadler of Webster, a researcher who has studied coyotes for decades. She is New Hampshire’s representative to Project Coyote, a national organization that she said “promotes coexistence.”

The eastern coyotes that we see and hear in New Hampshire have some DNA from wolves – as well as from domestic dogs, the result of cross-breeding as the western coyote made its way eastward, starting around 1875, she explained.

So our coyotes are bigger, heavier and, well, wolfier than their western cousins. But that doesn’t make them wolves, says Schadler.

Schadler is friends with the researcher who coined the term “coywolf” years ago after doing DNA studies of coyotes living on Massachusetts’ North Shore. His work proved that New England coyotes have wolf DNA, she said.

But so do our domestic dogs, Schadler said. “If you have ever walked into a person’s house who owns a chihuahua, you know how terrifying that animal can be,” she said.

As coyotes moved east across the Great Lakes states, they bred with a type of red wolf found in Michigan as well as with the eastern wolf in Canada, Schadler said. Meanwhile, both red and gray wolves were being wiped out in eastern states by extermination campaigns, she said.

“We eliminated the wolf and that opened up a hole in the ecosystem for coyotes to come in,” she said.

And coyotes were happy to move into the breach.

The first sighting here was reported in 1944, but it’s likely they had been here for a few years by then, according to Patrick Tate, a wildlife biologist for the Fish and Game Department.

Tate says “there is no such thing” as a coywolf. “They are eastern coyotes,” he said.

Ordinarily, it takes hundreds of thousands of years for a species to evolve and change size, Tate said. But as the western coyote interbred with wolves on its way here, those changes happened more quickly.

The proper term for the coyotes we see and hear in New Hampshire is “canis latrans variant,” Tate said. “It’s a hybrid, or a variant animal; it’s not a distinct species.”

The genetic makeup of these animals can vary from one region to another, he said. Some even have genes from modern dog breeds, the result of interbreeding with domestic pets.

But Tate said it’s a disservice to this animal to call it a coywolf. “And it causes great confusion amongst the public,” he said.

Eastern coyotes have not replaced wolves in New Hampshire, Tate said. While they do take fawns when they can, they “have no ability to impact moose,” he said. “They simply don’t have the body size that a wolf would have to do that.”

The interbreeding with wolves has continued north of the Canadian border, Schadler said. And because coyotes will disperse as far as 500 miles to find a mate, she said, “Those coyotes are carrying those wolf genes now far and wide.”

Today, she said, “the largest eastern coyotes are as big as the smallest eastern wolves.” But that still doesn’t make them wolves, Schadler said. “I think the eastern coyote is a coyote,” she said.

Tate said those most opposed to coyotes are people who have lost pets, sheep or chickens to the animals. He said in his experience, the trapping community here sees the value of having coyotes on the landscape, while deer hunters are more likely to want them wiped out.

A Jaffrey sports store currently is holding a contest, awarding a prize to the hunter who brings in the heaviest coyote by March 31.

Tate said Fish and Game does not regulate such contests, which he said have been controversial. From the hunters’ perspective, he said, it’s comparable to a bass fishing competition or deer pool.

But he also understands why others find such contests offensive.

Hunting coyotes doesn’t seem to reduce the population, Tate said. These territorial animals actually produce larger litters if their packs decrease.
But Schadler said that’s not the point. “The part of this that I find repugnant is the lack of morality or ethics that is involved in encouraging wanton waste of a wild creature,” she said.

New Hampshire is one of 42 states that allow year-round hunting of coyotes, she said. “It’s recreational killing of an animal, which is obscene,” she said.

Dave Anderson is director of education for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests; he is a co-author of the “Forest Journal” column in the New Hampshire Sunday News.

Anderson said coyotes are “superbly adaptable,” which explains why they’ve been spotted on Boston Common, in New York’s Central Park and even trotting down Main Street in Concord.

He thinks part of our fascination with coyotes is the traits they share with domestic canines. “How can we love our dogs and then profess to hate their wild cousins?” he asked.

“My own personal feeling is that we should learn to appreciate the ecological niche they’re filling and their role in the forest,” Anderson said.

But he knows a lot of folks, including deer hunters, “who have this real deep-seated antipathy about coyotes,” he said.

He has both deer and coyotes in his backyard and orchard. And he said it’s “a special thing” to hear them howling in the distance.

But Anderson said he’ll never forget hearing a coyote up close when he was in the woods one night. “When they vocalize nearby, that can really make all the hair stand up on the back of your neck,” he said.

“It’s a very primal, very humanizing experience. The idea that once we would have been prey.”

When Schadler first moved to New Hampshire, she made a research project out of a sheep farm in Kensington with a history of coyote predation. She got border collies, built fences, cleared brush and “hazed the hell out of the coyotes for the first few years.”

She chased them with airhorns and put pepper along the fence lines. “And all the years I had sheep, I never lost a sheep,” she said.

“I am living proof,” she said. “All people need to have is the desire to coexist with these things.”

Evolution favors coyotes here becoming larger, Schadler said. And she believes the animals are moving toward “a more wolf-like niche in the ecosystem.” She’s working on a book on the subject, “Becoming Wolf.”

But she said eastern coyotes “are not there yet.”

Her favorite coyote story didn’t happen in the woods, but in downtown Portsmouth. Schadler was waiting in her car at a red light when she saw a group of about 10 people waiting for the light to change.

Waiting with them was what she first thought was a large dog. Then she took a closer look and realized, “That’s a coyote.”

“The light changes, the people cross and the coyote paddles his way across the street. And the people are completely oblivious.”

It’s emblematic of how well adapted these animals are, and “how unconcerned they are with our lives,” she said.

It also shows that coyotes are everywhere, she said.

“Every one of us lives within the territory of a pack of coyotes.”

swickham@unionleader.com

Another View — Christine Schadler: The ugly sides of coyote hunting

The recent article in the Union Leader about coyote baiting lifts the curtain on the world of coyote killing. In this recreational activity, a hunter can leave bait such as the dead pigs and chickens mentioned. Coyotes scavenge whatever they can, and unwittingly become target practice for the waiting shooter.There is no hunt involved, no fair chase and no biological justification for this — just killing a useful predator, sorely needed to control rodent and deer populations. Why is this allowed? Ask the wildlife managers at New Hampshire Fish and Game and you will learn that since the coyotes will quickly replace any members removed, they are infinitely replaceable and therefore are in no danger of becoming extinct.

This is hardly justification.

Resilience characterizes the coyote, a trait for which it should be admired. Instead, it is the trait that causes coyotes so much trouble. The coyote is the predator we cannot control. Decades of extermination effort has yielded only hundreds of thousands more coyotes and a remarkable expansion in their range. Biologists understand the power of unleashing this responsive reproduction characteristic but at Fish and Game agencies, unlimited killing of coyotes is tolerated to appease the hunters who wish to kill for the sake of killing.

Ask one of these hunters why they kill coyotes and they will quickly respond, as did Mr. Toomey, the baiter, that coyotes have no predators and would get out of control if they weren’t constantly taken.

Of course, in nature, everything has predators and in the case of coyotes, it is disease. Mange, distemper, rabies, Parvo virus, tularemia, canine hepatitis and even porcupines all take their toll on coyotes. Meanwhile coyotes, a major predator of rodents (which make up 62 percent of their diet,) help to control the spread of Lyme disease.

As New Hampshire Fish and Game turns a blind eye to the reality of coyote killing, as discovered by the young man in Plaistow, they allow cruelty to pups, orphaned when their parents are killed, to a slow death by starvation. Yes, coyotes can be killed during their breeding and denning season, day and night in this state. Ask a wildlife manager at Fish and Game about this and you will be told that there aren’t that many taken to really make a dent in the population, but this is not the point.

First, no one is keeping track of the numbers of coyotes killed by hunting, baiting and denning (killing pups while in their den), and hunters are not required to report what they have killed. Secondly, the ethics of killing coyotes 365 days a year and at night from January through March are not part of the management decision-making.

The eastern coyote, like predators in general, regulates its own population naturally in several ways. When pack structure, crucial to self-regulation, is impacted by hunting, the young breed. Normally two thirds of all females never breed due to brief estrus cycles (just one week per year.) Also, vigilant parents do not tolerate their young breeding on their territory. Only the breeding pair breeds, period.

As long as no one asks too many questions, irresponsible hunters will continue to kill, kill, kill coyotes. Now that New Hampshire Fish and Game needs $1.5 million from the General Fund, our voice must be heard in defense of wildlife. The hunter, giving fair chase, holding ethical standards and using that animal for food, has every right to continue.

Christine Schadler is the Vermont and New Hampshire representative for Project Coyote. She lives in Webster.

 

____________________________________________________________

Editorial: Bill ignores basic coyote biology

Opinion Concord Monitor

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Another Epsom representative, Republican John Klose, is sponsoring a bill that should end up in the reject pile. It calls for allowing the hunting of coyotes at night, now limited to the frigid months of January, February and March, until the middle or end of August. Klose called coyotes “a 24-hour killer, seven days a week” whose numbers must be reduced. The “vicious” animals are “multiplying like it’s going out of style.”

There are plenty of problems with the bill. It was filed as a non-germane amendment to a bill about student hunting licenses and thus caught the state’s Fish and Game Department by surprise. It also ignores basic coyote biology. The more coyotes are hunted and killed, the more pups the females have in a litter. An average litter of four or five could become six or eight so you end up with more coyotes than you started with. Kill all the coyotes and more quickly move in. Kill some of the coyotes and there’s more food for the remaining ones so more of the pups survive to adulthood. Kill the bigger, older coyotes and you end up with more in their prime reproductive years.

Coyotes can, on rare occasions, kill a moose, as Klose says, but that’s rare and victims are the young and very old moose. Some, when driven to it by hunger or attracted by easy prey, do kill livestock and, since they defend their territory against other canids, they’ll kill dogs. Mostly, though, they live on mice, voles and small game.

On its website, New Hampshire Fish and Game warns farmers who have resident coyotes but no predation problem to leave well enough alone: “The resident coyote may actually be an asset to the farm by removing rodents and preventing problem coyotes from moving into the area.”

Glenn Normandeau, the department’s commissioner, said police and residents would prefer not to hear gunshots during the night. A generation or two ago shots meant that someone was hunting raccoons, legally, or jacking deer, very illegally. Now gunshots in the night spawn images of drug deals gone bad and domestic violence. Lawmakers should say “no” to shots in the dark.

Beavers Fighting Drought

Beavers Help Battle Ongoing Drought, from Northwestern University: Climate Change Beaver article

Busy Beavers Can Help Ease Drought, from Science Daily:  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080220130511.htm

Beavers are being welcomed in states with serious drought problems because of the beaver ponds mitigating effects on drought, from the Santa Cruz Sentinel.  http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/article/NE/20141220/NEWS/141229981

NH has just gone through one of its worse droughts ever, with more predicted. Drought impacts to NH (2)   DES Drought info and links (1)

From Ohio:

Keystone Role of Beavers in a Restored Wetland (Ohio)

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Keystone Role of Beavers in a Restored Wetland (Ohio)

The Shaker Trace Wetlands is a restored wetland area in southwestern Ohio (Klein 1992). Several years ago, a small number of American beavers (Castor canadensis) took up residence in an ephemeral lake in the wetlands. These beavers cut down willows (Salix spp.)—thus allowing more light to reach other vegetation—built a lodge, and dug an extensive system of canals (Figure 1). There is no stream flowing into the lake, so no dam. In some places, this lake can be over 1 m deep during the spring and early summer, but by late summer it may dry up completely owing to normal dry conditions. During the driest periods the canals dug by beavers provided an important reservoir of water for amphibians, fingernail clams, snails, and other aquatic organisms (Figure 1). During canal excavation, the beavers churned the soil and exposed seeds from deeper in the soil seed bank. In addition to these ecological benefits, the beavers provided wildlife viewing opportunities for visitors to the wetlands. After a couple of years in this ephemeral lake, the beavers abandoned their lodge and moved on, probably to a river or pond less likely to dry up.

Within a couple of years of the beavers’ departure, the extensive growth of willows and other woody vegetation made mechanical removal with a Hydro-Axe machine necessary (Conover and Klein 2010). This operation opened extensive areas to more light, and the large tires of the Hydro-Axe machine left deep tracks in some areas. Churning the soil exposed seeds from deeper in the soil seed bank. The Hydro-Axe operation served to increase plant diversity in the wetlands and provided more habitats for herbaceous species. The tire track depressions hold water during the summer drought period longer than surrounding areas, giving larval amphibians more time to develop into adults. [End Page 212] Snails, fingernail clams, and other aquatic species also benefit from water held in these depressions. In other words, the Hydro-Axe operation provided services at a cost of about $5,000 for 20 ha—services that had been provided for free by the beaver colony before they moved on.


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Figure 1.

Beavers as ecological engineers can provide beneficial ecological services. A canal (above) dug in an ephemeral lake in Shaker Trace Wetlands in Ohio leads to the beaver lodge. A wildlife viewing shelter can be seen in the background. The canal retained water longer into the drought period, allowing tadpoles to survive (below) when other areas were already dry.


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Beavers were extirpated from Ohio by 1830 (Chapman 1949) but have been making a comeback during the last few decades. In some parts of the country, beavers have been reintroduced and have provided rapid improvements in hydrology, riparian vegetation, and wildlife habitat (e.g., Albert and Trimble 2000). In restored ephemeral wetlands similar to the Shaker Trace Wetlands, beavers can play a keystone role by cutting down woody vegetation and digging canals that hold water for longer periods into the dry season, and by churning the soil, exposing seeds buried deeper in the soil seed bank. Beavers could be encouraged to remain in such wetlands by scooping out some deeper pools. This would benefit aquatic organisms by holding more water longer into the drought period, and it might enable beavers to remain in the wetlands. Other parts of the wetlands could still be allowed to dry up during drought periods, discouraging the establishment of fish that could prey on amphibian larvae. Desirable larger trees in the wetland area can be protected from beavers by wrapping aluminum, chicken wire, or steel screen around the trunks up to a height of 80 cm (Albert and Trimble 2000).

Denis Conover
(Dept. of Biological Sciences ML 0006, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati OH 45221-0006, 513/556-0716, denis.conover@uc.edu)

References

Albert, S. and T. Trimble. 2000. Beavers are partners in riparian restoration on the Zuni Indian Reservation. Ecological Restoration 18:87–92.
Chapman, F.B. 1949. The beaver in Ohio. Journal of Mammology 30:174–179.
Conover, D.G. and J. Klein. 2010…
From California:

Beavers: A Potential Missing Link in California’s Water Future

The industrious rodents can offer a range of benefits for California water supplies and habitats. But they’re still officially considered a pest.

On California’s central coast, a region that usually receives drenching rainfall or fog for most of the year, some forests are now as arid as a desert. Streams that once ran at least at a trickle through summer have vanished in the ongoing drought, and environmentalists and fishermen fear that local salmon will disappear if climate conditions don’t improve.

The landscape desperately needs rain.

It could also use beavers, according to ecologists who say the near eradication of Castor canadensis from parts of the West in the 19th century has magnified the effects of California’s worst dry spell in history.

“Beavers create shock absorption against drought,” says Brock Dolman, a scientist in Sonoma County who wants to repopulate coastal California with the big lumberjacking rodents.

Beavers are a hated pest and a nuisance in the eyes of many landowners and developers, and the animals are regularly killed with depredation permits and by fur trappers. However, they are also a keystone species whose participation in the ecosystem creates benefits for almost all other flora and fauna, Dolman says. This is because of the way beavers’ hydro-engineering work affects the movement of water.

“Beavers aren’t actually creating more water, but they are altering how it flows, which creates benefits through the ecosystem,” says Michael Pollock, an ecosystems analyst and beaver specialist at the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Science Center.

By gnawing down trees and building dams, beavers create small reservoirs. What follows, scientists say, is a series of trickle-down benefits: The water that might otherwise have raced downstream to the sea, tearing apart creek gullies and washing away fish, instead gets holed up for months behind the jumbles of twigs and branches. In this cool, calm water, fish — like juvenile salmon — thrive.

Meanwhile, the water percolates slowly into the ground, recharging near-surface aquifers and keeping soils hydrated through the dry season. Entire streamside meadows, Dolman says, may remain green all summer if beavers are at work nearby. Downstream of a beaver pond, some of the percolated water may eventually resurface, helping keep small streams flowing and fish alive.

Dolman, co-founder of the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center in Sonoma County, says this water banking process could even, in theory, partially offset the worrying shrinkage of mountain snowpack, historically California’s most important water source.

Dolman and his colleague Kate Lundquist, who are leading their organization’s “Bring Back the Beaver Campaign,” would like reintroduction of beavers from other regions to begin now as a measure for restoring salmon populations and building general drought resilience into the landscape.

In Oregon, something along these lines is happening. Here, a newly proposed Coho recovery plan would make it illegal to kill or harm beavers within the geographical range of the imperiled fish.

But in California, there is a problem: Government biologists aren’t entirely sold on the virtues of beavers. Kevin Shaffer, a fisheries biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, believes that beavers can have benefits for a watershed that is temporarily deprived of rainfall. Eventually, though, even beavers cannot cancel out the effects of long-term drought or climate change.

“As the drought gets worse, their ponds will dry up and the animals will just move somewhere else,” he says. “They won’t stay because there is no more water.”

Shaffer adds that introducing beavers into an environment that has been seriously stressed by drought may benefit nothing — not fish, not plant life and not the beavers themselves.

Releasing beavers can also create conflicts with people, especially in heavily populated watersheds like the Russian River, just north of San Francisco.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife classifies beavers as a “nuisance” species. That’s because, Shaffer explains, the animals’ activity can have direct negative impacts on people. Dams can inundate properties, and falling trees could potentially land in roadways.

In spite of agency uncertainty, the benefits of beavers on a landscape are considered fact by scientists in California’s North Coast region. Sarah Beesley, a fisheries biologist with the Yurok Tribal Fisheries Program, has been running a habitat restoration effort on the lower Klamath River system, where a small beaver population currently resides. Her goal is to increase the presence of year-round water, especially in slow-moving wetlands, by building stick dams that closely mimic those built by beavers. In the future, her project hopes to reintroduce beavers themselves to streams that the animals don’t frequent.

In several stream systems in the region, says Beesley, the only places where salmon — especially endangered Coho — have survived after four years of below-average rainfall are beaver ponds.

“Wetland features, whether built by people or by beavers, are definitely what’s getting the salmon here through the drought,” says Beesley.

Beavers still live in the Klamath drainage system. They also occur, among other places, in the Central Valley, near the Mexican border and in parts of the Sierra Nevada.

However, there is ongoing debate about where beavers historically lived — a debate that could hinder progress in any reintroduction campaign.

Dolman and Lundquist contributed to a report published in 2013 in the journal California Fish and Game that revealed evidence of beavers having inhabited regions of coastal California where they don’t live today. The evidence included beaver remains and accounts from early explorers. Similar literature has been produced making the case that beavers lived throughout the Sierra Nevada. As a prelude to reintroducing the animals, they hope to establish as fact that beavers once played key ecological roles in many watersheds.

Beaver reintroduction has seen success in Washington, where the Methow Conservancy has identified beavers as a valuable tool for restoring damaged watersheds. The organization has participated in relocating more than 300 beavers into the headwaters of the Methow River system, which feeds the Columbia River.

Heide Andersen, stewardship director at the conservancy, believes the ongoing decline of salmon on the West Coast began partly as a result of losing beavers.

“Beavers impact almost every aspect of the watershed,” says Andersen. “They lower stream temperatures, retain sediment, create refuge for fish, and create groundwater percolation that reappears downstream later in the year. When beavers disappeared, streams became channelized, we lost our flows earlier in the summer, and temperatures went up.”

While rain is sorely needed throughout California, the absence of beaver infrastructure could make the landscape less able to rebound should a more generous hydrological period resume. Dolman explains that, without woody debris in the creek gullies to slow water down, the land has less opportunity to soak it up when rain does fall. The result is raging floods in the winter and, once summer comes, a watershed that rapidly goes dry again.

“Losing beavers is a double whammy for a watershed,” Dolman explains. “You get exacerbated flooding, erosion and sediment, and reduced groundwater recharge, in the winter. Then, in the summer, you have land that dries up faster because you didn’t get that winter recharge. We’ve created a landscape much less resilient to drought.”

Alastair Bland is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He can be reached at allybland79@gmail.com or via Twitter at @allybland.

About the Author

Alastair Bland

Alastair Bland is a freelance journalist in San Francisco, CA. He can be reached at allybland79@gmail.com or via Twitter.

 Reprinted from News Deeply
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