‘Damtastic!’ Newsom calls for Beaver Restoration Program

Local ecologists applaud governor’s proposal to fund beaver conservation.|

Sonoma wildlife conservationists had one word to describe Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed new Beaver Restoration program: “Damtastic!”

Newsom floated the program as part of a May 13 presentation of his revised 2022-2023 fiscal budget. Pledging $1.67 million this year and $1.44 million in years thereafter, Newsom said the funds would go toward the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s efforts in developing “a comprehensive beaver management plan.”

The North American Beaver is considered a “keystone species” by Fish and Wildlife, which estimates its current population in the state to be between 10 million to 15 million. “Historically, beavers used to live in nearly every stream in North America with an estimated population of 100-200 million,” DFW officials state at wildlife.ca.gov.

In the budget proposal, Newsom described beaver as “an untapped, creative climate solving hero” that helps prevent the loss of biodiversity.

"Beavers are remarkable at creating more resilient ecosystems,” said Newsom. “And therefore thinking through approaches to maximize their unique skills throughout California will benefit our landscapes and help drive more cost-efficient restoration."

Sonoma County beaver advocates have been “working hard in Sacramento” the past year to lobby for investment into just such a program, said Brock Dolman, of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, in an email. Dolman said the next step is to continue to advocate for its inclusion in the final budget, which goes into effect July 1.

Beaver have had an increasing presence in Sonoma Valley in recent years, with evidence of the their lodge-building activities visible in Sonoma Creek, as well as the occasional, if rare, sighting of a Castor canadensis specimen itself.

Recognition of the role beaver play in watershed health and climate resiliency has heightened in recent years. The wood-gnawing mammals’ lodge-building activities are known to enhance water storage, erosion control, habitat restoration and creation and species recovery, according to the Bring Back the Beaver campaign, the Occidental Ecology Center Water Institute’s beaver-education program.

They can also help with the maintenance of stream flows during dry periods, said Caitlin Cornwall, of the Sonoma Ecology Center.

While Sonoma Valley's creeks and aquifers are drying out during prolonged periods of drought, Cornwall and the Ecology Center view beaver as “a potential game-changer.”

“Of course, we need to be careful about where they go,” Cornwall said. “But they are one of the fastest, cheapest, most reliable allies for bringing abundant water back to Sonoma Valley, both above ground and below ground.”

Added Cornwall: “And that’s good for all of us, human and animal.”

Before celebrating too much, Dorman is urging supporters not to count their chickens before they’re hatched or beavers before they’re lodged, as it were. Gov. Newsom’s amended budget still must be approved by the state legislature, which will hold hearings to review it in June. Both the state Assembly and Senate must adopt a final budget by June 15.

According to the Beaver Restoration proposal, Fish & Wildlife would use the requested funding to:

• Hire five new permanent staff to run and implement the Beaver Restoration Program (three senior environmental scientists and two environmental scientists)

• Purchase equipment to trap, tag and haul beavers

• Conduct beaver health analysis in support of relocation efforts

• Purchase five pickup trucks (one for each staff member)

If the program comes to fruition, Dolman hopes it will ultimately create sustainable “wetland oases” for beaver to continue their natural climate-resilient activities.

“After years of being misperceived as a ‘non-native nuisance,’ beaver are finally being given the acknowledgment they deserve,” said Dolman.

Email Jason Walsh at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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