My Turn: Beavers play important role in region’s watershed
Special to the Sun
LAKE TAHOE – So, commercial fishing for crawfish in Lake Tahoe is one of the paths on the road to lake clarity? We offer you an army of volunteers, born and raised in Lake Tahoe, who if given the chance, will filter and purify our lake’s water as it flows in from its tributaries. Without the use of fossil fuel, they work for free, expecting nothing in return for their tireless efforts and structurally sound engineering. They are the North American beavers.
Before we go any further, let’s get the “they are native” “they aren’t native” argument settled. This debate that has plagued the very existence of these animals in our area will be resolved in an upcoming edition of California Fish and Game Scientific Journal. Two articles present both physical and historical evidence showing that beavers were native to the Sierra Nevada.
Samples taken from a buried beaver dam at 4,000 feet above sea level on an upper Feather River tributary were carbon dated at 544 AD. The Washoe Tribe and other mountain tribes had a word for beavers, but none for any other non-native species. The earliest Europeans to arrive in North America reported beaver living in every suitable waterway from the Arctic tundra to northern Mexico. After all, what insurmountable obstacle would have prevented beavers from living in the high Sierra? And, they have been here for a very good reason.
Beavers can help keep Tahoe blue instead of green, primarily because beaver dams and ponds trap the naturally occurring sediment and nutrients associated with algae growth. Beaver dams also help clean up the mess we create by trapping human-caused erosion as it is washed into our waterways.
Having witnessed the destruction of a very small beaver dam and the billowing cloud of sediment that was released, we were amazed by the volume of its contents. The dams could intercept the sand and chemicals put down by road departments, which are washed into creeks and streams and then into the Lake.
Think about that the next time you are creeping behind one of those Caltrans street sweepers surrounded by a cloud of dust! Also, by slowing water flow, beaver dams reduce stream bed erosion and retain water for the dryer months while continually replenishing the water table.
Regardless, not everyone wants to share their space with nature’s water storing and filtering engineers. They are either chewing your prized Aspen or building a pond that is flooding your favorite trail. Simple, inexpensive, and virtually undetectable methods and devices are available to coexist with these busy water lovers.
There are also people in this area devoted to sharing this information and helping to make these methods and devices work. Tahoe Donner Association, Incline Village General Improvement District, Placer County, the Army Corp of Engineers in Martis Valley, and private residents have all successfully made these options work for them. The benefits of beavers are being recognized in their native habitats in other parts of the world. It is time to recognize their role here in our watershed as well.
Sherry and Ted Guzzi and Mary Long are members of the Sierra Wildlife Coalition. Read more about the coalition on Facebook
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