Central Coast organization helps restore beaver habitat, spread awareness about the semiaquatic rodents’ benefits

Photo courtesy of Audrey Taub
DAM IT: Beaver dams store more water in the ground than on the surface creating wetland homes for birds, frogs, and other animals. On Feb. 10 a Central Coast organization, the SLO Beaver Brigade, is celebrating the semiaquatic rodent at the Atascadero wastewater treatment facility.

Beavers were once one of the most widely distributed mammals in North America, but unregulated trapping, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict changed all of that. 

A growing recognition of the beavers’ role in ecosystem restoration and conservation efforts led California to start the beaver restoration project in 2023. Acknowledging the benefits beavers have on California’s ecosystem is a new movement, said SLO Beaver Brigade Executive Director Audrey Taub. Prior to last year, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the beaver project, it was legal to exterminate beavers. 

In December, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reintroduced a family of beavers into the wild for the first time in 75 years as part of the project.  

Since the spotlight on beavers is new, Peter Tira from California Fish and Wildlife said that the state doesn’t actually know how many beavers there are. As part of the project, California is encouraging submissions of observation data from the public. Beavers were reported in Zaca Creek, Alamo Pintada Creek, and Redrock Canyon in Santa Barbara County. 

“We actually don’t have population numbers for beavers or most other species in California,” he said. “But beavers are very prolific and very widespread throughout the state. They’re healthy and overall doing a great job.” 

Now the state will be using beavers to help restore rivers across California, Taub said. From the most northern part of the state to the most southern, beavers will be released into the wild to help create healthy ecosystems. 

As part of its work restoring beaver habitat along the Salinas River, the SLO Beaver Brigade will unveil interpretive panels along the Juan Bautista De Anza Trail in Atascadero on Feb. 10. 

“One panel will focus on the habitat that beavers create. They build dams and they create wetlands that store a lot of water on the landscape and create very biodiverse habitats,” she said. “Lots of birds, frogs, and turtles find their homes there. The other panel focuses on fire and groundwater storage and how beaver dams are known to store 10 times more water in the ground than on the surface.” 

Taub said the wetlands are a great refuge for the local animals and serve as firebreaks for the cities near them. 

The brigade received a Whale Tail Grant of a little more than $40,000 from the California Coastal Commission for the panels, a mural at the Charles Paddock Zoo, and educational tours. Field trips are also offered for a variety of local schools, and Taub said so far, schools in Oceano and Atascadero are on the calendar. 

Coming out and hearing about beavers is a great way to learn about California’s natural ecosystems, especially if you live along the coast, Taub said. 

“Beavers are rodents, and they eat woody materials, tree bark, and herbaceous plants,” she said. “Beavers create habitat for fish, and there’s been this long saying that beavers actually taught salmon to jump because they had to learn to jump over beaver dams and make their way into the ocean.” 

Taub that said on the Central Coast beavers and steelhead trout have evolved together for many years because steelhead trout can safely mature behind a beaver pond and swim out to the ocean in spring to continue their life cycle. 

“They build a dam that slows down the water and gives it time to sink into the groundwater,” she said. “The Salinas River will run dry on the surface and continue flowing under[ground] except where the beavers are.” 

Over the past three years, researchers studying beavers in the Salinas River found that in periods of drought, beaver habitat maintained wetness and actually got greener, showing zero signs of drought, Taub said. 

Because of these benefits, the state changed its thinking on the rodent and so have those who may have once considered the species to be a nuisance.

“There is a rapidly expanding desire among landowners, land managers, restoration practitioners, and other stakeholders in California to utilize beavers for habitat and water management, ecosystem restoration, and increased resiliencey to climate change and wildfire,” Fish and Wildlife said on its beaver web page. 

Highlight

• The Santa Maria Public Library—421 South McClelland St.—will host free craft workshops for adults during February in the Library’s Learning Loft. There will be an embroidery workshop on Feb. 10 at 10:30 a.m., jewelry and magnet-making on Feb. 24 at 11 a.m., and origami photo frame-making on Feb. 26 at 4 p.m. Craft programs are free and all materials will be provided, but space is limited and registration is required. These programs are designed for people 18 and older. The library continually reimagines its services to offer a wide array of programs and resources that move beyond traditional library services to welcome everyone for improved quality of life through lifelong learning, increased activities, and positive community connections. Direct questions about the workshops to (805) 925-0994, Ext. 8562.

Reach Staff Writer Samantha Herrera from the Sun’s sister paper at [email protected].

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