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Work to protect Sonoma beaver lodge begins

To prevent flooding and manage water levels in a Sonoma creek, a pond leveler will be installed where a family of beavers is living, Sonoma County Water Agency officials said.

The pond leveler will help water transfer through the beaver dam so that the pond doesn’t cause flooding. It will also assist with maintaining the habitat for the beavers, said David Cook, senior environmental specialist at Sonoma County Water Agency.

Work on the pond leveler began the morning of Monday, April 27.

Heidi Perryman, of urban-beaver protection group Martinez Beavers, asked the agency to wait until kit - or, baby beaver - season is over, which is mid-to-late May. But Brock Dolman, program director of Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, which is partnering with the water agency and Swift Water Designs in the project, said they also would prefer to do the work outside of kit season and were prepared to do the install in March, but then COVID-19 got in the way.

“We are doing all we can to ensure the best outcome for the beaver and their kits,” Dolman said. “Given the desire to keep the beaver in place while preventing more flood damage to the service road and the neighbors’ property, this is the imperfect solution that is far better than getting rid of the beavers altogether.”

Perryman is concerned that otter, which have been documented in the area, will predate - or, prey upon - beaver kits.

“Our lowered dam did produce some mink predation one year when all our kits were killed,” she said. “Since the rain is pretty much over why not give it a month or two?”

Dolman said they studied the situation and determined they “could lower the pond level without exposing the lodge entrance” where the beavers and their kits live.

The access road is compromised and the beavers are building the dam higher and longer and “have built a substantial secondary dam downstream,” he said.

“The effort, food calories and exposure to predation of dam building, as well as tree-cutting impacts to the neighborhood, will all be wasted,” Dolman said if they wait to do the work. “The larger and higher the dam continues to become before lowering the pond level the more impact its remainder will have during next winters high flow events.”

The creek is an engineered flood control channel owned by Sonoma Water, and has been monitoring the beaver dam since last year while consulting “with California Department of Fish and Wildlife on options to manage beaver while reducing the risk of flooding,” he said.

“Sonoma Water has taken extensive effort to restore the riparian trees along many of its urban channels. The use of (the creek) by beavers, who eat willow and cottonwood trees, is an indication of the improved habitat conditions along the creek,” Dolman said.

Richard Dale, executive director of Sonoma Ecology Center, said he is pleased that the pond leveler will be installed.

“These work well, and (Occidental Arts and Ecology Center) is a trusted partner for managing and educating about beaver,” Dale said.

Contact Anne at anne.ernst@sonomanews.com.

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