California has implemented a new policy recognizing the ecological benefits of beavers, encouraging landowners and agencies to wrap trees and install water-flow management devices rather than killing beavers over land and property damage.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said its new policy builds upon its existing beaver management policies and lays the groundwork for projects that harness beavers’ natural ability to help protect biodiversity, restore habitat and build wildfire-resilient landscapes.
“This includes a process that enables beaver relocation as a restoration tool and a new non-lethal option. The policy also outlines a process to mitigate beaver depredation conflict, prioritizes the use of nonlethal deterrents whenever possible and ensures that lethal removal of depredation beavers is done in a humane manner,” the department said in a related release.
“Beavers help improve habitat restoration and water quality, restore ecosystem processes and bolster wildfire resiliency,” Director Charlton H. Bonham said in a statement. “This new policy formally recognizes beavers as a keystone species and ecosystem engineers in California. They are truly the Swiss army knife of native species due to their ability to provide so many nature-based ecosystem services.”
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Bonham wrote in a previous op-ed that humans had spent millions trying to replicate the benefits of beavers, with beaver dams improving water quality, raising groundwater levels and slowing water flow.
“California’s next step is to expand partnerships with California native tribes, non-governmental organizations, private landowners, state and federal agencies and restoration practitioners to lay the groundwork for implementing beaver restoration projects,” he explained.
The policy went into effect in June and the department hired five environmental scientists dedicated to the initiative.
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Staff will provide technical assistance to landowners to prevent any future occurrence of beaver damage.
The state is also running pilot projects to relocate beavers to places where they can be more beneficial. The program was funded by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration last year.
The policy follows similar moves by other Western states, including Washington’s beaver relocation program.
Beavers in California were once pervasive but, after years of trapping and removal, are found in much smaller numbers in the northern and central parts of the Golden State.
It is unknown how many beavers are currently residing in California, although they are not a protected species. Beavers were reported in the San Francisco Bay Area last December, according to SF Gate.
There are just up to 15 million of the “untapped, creative climate solving [heroes]” in North America today, according to the department.
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Hundreds of permits are sought by landowners each year that typically allow them to kill the animals.
While they are not a protected species, they help create a habitat critical for the endangered coho salmon and others.
Vicky Monroe, statewide conflict programs coordinator for California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Associated Press that 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.