Martinez, California beavers

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Yearling Beaver in Alhambra Creek, downtown Martinez

The Martinez beavers are a family of beavers living in Alhambra Creek in downtown Martinez, California. Prior to the arrival of the beavers, Martinez was best known as the longtime home of naturalist John Muir, and the birthplace of Joltin' Joe Dimaggio.

Two adult beavers arrived in late 2006,[1] proceeding to produce 4 kits over the course of the summer. After a controversial decision by the City of Martinez to exterminate the beavers, local conservationists organized to overturn the decision, forming an organization called Worth a Dam.[2] Subsequently, wildlife populations have increased in diversity along the Alhambra Creek watershed.

Flooding, following heavy rains, washed away the beaver lodge and all four dams on Alhambra Creek in March 2011 [3]

Controversy[edit]

3-week-old beaver kit swimming in Alhambra Creek in June, 2010.
River otter Returns to Alhambra Creek Beaver Pond 2008
Mink Returns to Alhambra Creek Beaver Pond 2009
Green heron eating first recorded Tule perch in Alhambra Creek.
Hooded mergansers return to Martinez beaver pond Dec. 2010.
Belted Kingfisher eating fish above Alhambra Creek beaver pond

In late 2006, Alhambra Creek, the creek that runs through the City of Martinez, was adopted by two beavers. The beavers built a dam 30 feet wide and at one time 6 feet high, and chewed through half the willows and other creekside landscaping the city planted as part of its $9.7 million 1999 flood-improvement project. Ironically the worst flooding since the 1999 flood control project was in 2005, two years before the beaver returned.

In November 2007, the city declared that the risk of flooding from the dam necessitated removal of the beavers. Since the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) does not allow relocation, depredation was the only solution. Many residents voiced strong objections, prompting a Beaver vigil and rally, as well as a flurry of local media interest. Within three days of the announcement of the decision to exterminate the beavers, downtown Martinez was invaded by news cameras and curious spectators. Because of the loud public outcry, the city was able to obtain an exception from DFG, who pledged to pay for their successful relocation. This 11th-hour decision relieved much of the tension, but residents continued to press the city for preventative action that would allow the beavers to stay. In a heavily-attended city council meeting, the city was alternately praised for gaining DFG exception and chided for not researching effective flood control measures. Concerns of downtown shopkeepers were raised, but strategies for flow management were mentioned by most. Offers of help came from the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, the Superintendent of schools and many private residents.

After this uncommon civic display, Mayor Schroder agreed to form a subcommittee dedicated to considering all the options for the beavers. Council members Ross and Delaney will sit on the committee with City Manager Don Blubaugh. In a recent meeting, the city agreed to hire Skip Lisle (of Beaver Deceivers in Vermont) to install a flow device. Resolution included installing a pipe through the beaver dam so that the pond's water level could not become excessive.

A keystone species, the beaver have transformed Alhambra Creek from a trickle into multiple dams and beaver ponds, which in turn, has led to the return of steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and river otter (Lontra canadensis) in 2008, and mink (Neovison vison) in 2009.[4][5] Examples of the impact of the beaver as a keystone species in 2010, include a Green heron (Butorides virescens) catching a Tule perch (Hysterocarpus traskii traskii), the first recorded sighting of the perch in Alhambra Creek, and the December arrival of a pair of Hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) (see photos). The beaver parents have produced babies every year since their 2006 arrival.[6]

In June, 2010, after birthing and successfully weaning triplets this year (and quadruplets the previous three years), "Mom Beaver" died of natural causes.[7]

In September, 2011, Martinez officials ordered Mario Alfaro, a local artist commissioned to paint an outdoor mural celebrating the heritage of the city, to paint over the depiction of a beaver he had included in his panorama. He complied and also painted over his own name in apparent protest.[8]

History of the Golden Beaver[edit]

The Martinez beavers probably originated from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Historically, before the California Fur Rush of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Delta probably held the largest concentration of beaver in North America. It was California's early fur trade, more than any other single factor, that opened up the West, and the San Francisco Bay Area in particular, to world trade. The Spanish, French, English, Russians and Americans engaged in the California fur trade before 1825, harvesting prodigious quantities of beaver, river otter, marten, fisher, mink, fox, weasel, harbor and fur seals and sea otter. When the coastal and oceanic fur industry began to decline, the focus shifted to California's inland fur resources. Between 1826 and 1845 the Hudson's Bay Company sent parties out annually from Fort Astoria and Fort Vancouver into the Sacramento and the San Joaquin valleys as far south as French Camp on the San Joaquin River. These trapping expeditions must have been extremely profitable to justify the long overland trip each year. It appears that the golden beaver (Castor canadensis ssp. subauratus) was one of the most valued of the animals taken, and apparently was found in great abundance. Thomas McKay reported that in one year the Hudson's Bay Company took 4,000 beaver skins on the shores of San Francisco Bay. At the time, these pelts sold for $2.50 a pound or about $4 each.

The Delta area incidentally, is probably where McKay was so successful, rather than the Bay itself.[9] In 1840, explorer Captain Thomas Farnham wrote that beaver were very numerous near the mouths of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and on the hundreds of small "rushcovered" islands. Farnham, who had travelled extensively in North America, said: "There is probably no spot of equal extent in the whole continent of America which contains so many of these muchsought animals."[10]

In November, 2009 the Martinez City Council approved the placement of an 81 tile wildlife mural on the Escobar Street bridge. The mural was created by schoolchildren and donated by Worth a Dam to memorialize the beavers and other fauna in Alhambra Creek.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Carolyn Jones (April 16, 2008). "Moment of truth for Martinez beavers". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  2. ^ "Worth a Dam website". 
  3. ^ Lisa P. White, "Storm damages beaver lodge, dams", Tri-Valley Herald (March 26, 2011), p. A3.
  4. ^ Aleta George (2008). "Martinez Beavers". Bay Nature (Bay Nature Institute). Retrieved Nov 6, 2009. 
  5. ^ Nicola DeRobertis-Theye. "Beavers and More in Martinez:New Habitat Thanks to Beavers". Bay Nature (Bay Nature Institute). Retrieved Nov 6, 2009. 
  6. ^ Carolyn Jones (2010-06-11). "New baby beaver has Martinez residents beaming". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 12, 2010. 
  7. ^ Joe Eaton (2010-07-05). "Wild Neighbors: A Death in the Family". The Berkeley Daily Planet. Retrieved 2010-07-06. 
  8. ^ Carolyn Jones (2011-10-08). "Martinez mural artist forced to remove beaver". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2013-03-04. 
  9. ^ Skinner, John E. (1962). An Historical Review of the Fish and Wildlife Resources of the San Francisco Bay Area (The Mammalian Resources). California Department of Fish and Game, Water Projects Branch Report no. 1. Sacramento, California: California Department of Fish and Game. p. 155. 
  10. ^ Thomas Jefferson Farnham (1857). Life, adventures, and travels in California. Blakeman & Co. p. 383. 
  11. ^ White, Lisa P. (Nov 19, 2009). "Martinez Beavers May Get Mural". Pleasant Hill Martinez Record (Contra Costa Times). 

External links[edit]