MARTINEZ, Calif. – Nature enthusiasts, conservationists and wildlife rescue organizations were out in spades last Saturday to celebrate a species that once faced extermination in Martinez.
The 8th annual Beaver Festival drew more participants and visitors than ever, growing from just eight booths in 2008 to over 40 booths at this year’s event. The festival offered educational opportunities for people of all ages, music from five different bands, a silent auction, a children’s procession led by a bagpiper and many nature-centered activities.
The idea of the festival was conceived by local child psychologist Dr. Heidi Perryman, after she became, almost overnight, a spokesperson for beavers living in Alhambra Creek.
In late 2006, two beavers took up residence in a section of the creek in downtown Martinez, chewing through trees and other creekside landscaping the city planted as part of its $9.7 million flood improvement project. By 2007, the City decided that flood risk from the beavers’ dam, along with the loss of landscaping, was enough to remove the semi-aquatic rodents from the creek. However, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) wouldn’t allow for relocation of the beavers, so extermination seemed the only option.
Perryman and other residents, however, wouldn’t accept that decision. Within a number of days, a beaver vigil and rally was held, which quickly drew the attention of Bay Area media outlets. The CDFW then relented, pledging to pay for the relocation of the Martinez beavers.
While this decision seemed a good compromise to some, there were still many residents who pressed the City to allow the beavers to stay, and offers of assistance from organizations like the Sierra Club and Humane Society began to pour in. The City decided to form a subcommittee to assess what to do with the beavers, and a decision was made to install a flow device in the creek. Essentially, all it took was a pipe system through the beaver dam to keep the creek’s water level from backing up and flooding the surrounding business district.
As for the landscaping, a little education and compromise between the City, area businesses and residents, has gone a long way.
Beth Pratt, California Director of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), said she spends much of her time working to help people and wildlife co-exist in urban environments. Currently, she works on projects like #SaveLACougars, which helps mountain lions such as famed “P22” living in Griffith Park, survive. Pratt also works on Bay Area projects which have assisted in the return of porpoises to San Francisco Bay – the best place in the world, she says, to study harbor porpoise.
“Cities, right now, are really important to conservation because wildlife can feel the (encroachment), and we don’t put aside a lot of other protected spaces,” Pratt said. “NWF cannot say enough good things about what Martinez has done for coexisting with wildlife.”
Pratt even has a book coming out in the spring which will feature Perryman and the Martinez beavers, along with other California wildlife. “We just support Heidi’s efforts and what Martinez has done,” Pratt said.
In addition to drawing representatives from larger organizations like the NWF and International Bird Rescue, the festival also sparked the interest of smaller organizations such as the Urban Wildlife Research Project (UWRP), which focuses on beavers, burrowing owls and red foxes.
“We’re offering public support for the beaver,” said Greg Kerekez of UWRP. “Worth A Dam (Perryman’s non-profit organization) helped us out. Beavers are gradually starting to spread around different watersheds in the bay, using the bay as a way to get to new areas.”
Kerekez highlighted the fact beavers are a keystone species, or a species upon which other species in an ecosystem depend, because their dams develop ponds which provide habitat for other animals.
Since the return of beaver to Martinez, wildlife such as mink, hooded merganser, steelhead trout and river otter have been spotted in ponds within Alhambra Creek, and slowly, the oft-misunderstood species is becoming beloved.
“This is the first year the City of Martinez ever donated money to us, so it’s a pretty big deal,” Perryman said. “We’re very happy.”