‘Damastic!’ Newsom calls for beaver restoration program

Sonoma wildlife advocates had only one word to describe Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new beaver restoration program: “Damtastic!”

Newsom launched the program as part of a May 13 presentation of its revised 2022-2023 fiscal budget. Pledging $1.67 million this year and $1.44 million in subsequent years, Newsom said the funds would go towards efforts by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop “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 and 15 million. “Historically, beavers lived in nearly every waterway in North America with an estimated population of 100-200 million,” DFW officials tell Wildlife.ca.gov.

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

“Beavers are remarkable for creating more resilient ecosystems,” Newsom said. “And so, thinking about approaches to maximizing their unique skills across California will benefit our landscapes and contribute to more cost-effective restoration.”

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

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

Recognition of the role beavers play in watershed health and climate resilience has grown in recent years. Wood-boring mammal lodge-building activities are known to improve water storage, erosion control, habitat restoration and creation, and species recovery, according to the Bring Back the Beaver campaign. , the beaver education program of the Occidental Ecology Center Water Institute.

They can also help maintain stream flows during dry spells, said Caitlin Cornwall of the Sonoma Ecology Center.

As streams and aquifers in the Sonoma Valley dry up during prolonged periods of drought, Cornwall and the Ecology Center see the beaver as “a potential game changer.”

“Of course we have to be careful where they go,” Cornwall told the Index-Tribune. “But they are one of the fastest, cheapest and most reliable allies in bringing abundant water back to the Sonoma Valley, both above and below ground.”

Cornwall added: “And it’s good for all of us, humans and animals.”

Before celebrating too much, Dorman urges fans not to count their chickens before they are hatched or beavers before they are housed, so to speak. Governor Newsom’s amended budget still needs to be approved by the state legislature, which will hold hearings to consider it in June. The National Assembly and the Senate must adopt a final budget by June 15.

Under the beaver restoration proposal, Fish & Wildlife would use the requested funding to:

• Hire five new permanent staff to manage and implement the beaver restoration program (three senior environmental scientists and two environmental scientists)

• Purchase equipment to trap, tag and transport beavers

• Conduct beaver health analysis in support of relocation efforts

• Purchase five vans (one for each staff member)

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

“After years of being misperceived as an ‘unnative nuisance’, the beaver is finally getting the recognition it deserves,” Dolman said.

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

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