FirstNet

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in favor of beavers — in 1939

A lawsuit between two landowners

Beaver Dam
Beaver dam. Wyoming Game and Fish Department photo.

When Paul Stewart bought his rangeland in Eastern Oregon in 1884 it included a meadow with “stirrup-high native grasses”. The sub-irrigation provided by Crane Creek was amplified by several families of industrious beavers who had built numerous dams across the stream to form ponds for their homes.

In 1924 he left his farm for a year and upon returning found that poachers had trapped and removed the beavers. The dams had washed out and over the next 12 years the meadow and the creek was transformed. Uncontrolled flood waters eroded the banks, cutting into his valuable crop land. The stream was flowing 15 feet below its original level and the water table had dropped. The meadow was drying up and a well was barely producing any water.

Mr. Stewart arranged for the Oregon State Game Commission to bring him sixteen of nature’s hydraulic engineers — native beavers.

Below is an excerpt from a document written in 1941 by Paul W. Schaffer, the Regional Biologist for the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region.

“The beavers began their reclamation work at once. They erected strong dams almost overnight; they sent huge cottonwoods and aspen crashing into the gully; they built more and more dams.

“When the heavy spring run-off came, water that for the past twelve years had rushed through the stream channel to be lost in the river below was caught behind the beaver dams and stored in large ponds which acted as settling basins for the silt-laden waters. At each flood stage of the stream, inches of soil were added to the bottom of the deepened channel. As the ponds were filled, excess water flowed over well-designed spillways and continued down the stream.”

The average summer streamflow of the preceding twelve years was increased considerably by the water escaping from storage. Water from the ponds percolated into the banks to the adjacent fields. Hay production in the meadows improved. The well again supplied ample stock water. The ugly erosion scar through the meadow was healing.

To make a long story shorter, Mr. Stewart’s downstream neighbor, Lloyd Johnson, urged Mr. Stewart to remove the beaver dams thinking it would improve the condition of his own eroded land. He did not realize that if the dams were blown up that the water would simply flow through his land, unimpeded by any structures, resulting in little if any change in his water table.

Mr. Johnson filed a lawsuit to have the beaver dams removed. He won. The judge ordered Mr. Stewart to within five days ask the State Game Commission to remove the beavers and the dams. He was also ordered to pay a $300 contempt fine and was threatened with three months in jail if he did not comply.

Mr. Stewart appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court which ruled in his favor, writing in part:

“To deny our water users the right to control such streams and prevent the erosion that would soon take place would mean the utter destruction of much of our most valuable lands throughout the state.”

Below is Mr. Schaffer’s nine-page beautifully written and typed description of Mr. Stewart’s experience with the beavers, crafted in 1941. It even includes an epilogue. Notice how both the right and left margins are justified, a long and tedious process when done on a typewriter. (You may also download the document.)

Beaver-On-Trial-by-Paul-Schaffer-1941

 

It would be very interesting to know the present condition of Mr. Stewart’s former property, which he sold shortly after the 1939 court cases.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has a helpful guide to the beaver’s role in riparian habitat management.

In case you missed it, check out our May 5, 2021 article about how beavers can affect wildfires.

If you’re still starving for more information about beavers, Heidi Perryman, Co-Chair of last month’s California Beaver Summit, tells us that their website has information about presentations made at the conference, including the effects on wildfires, managing the challenges beavers can cause for landowners, and the value beaver engineering can have for the drying state of California. She said two of the researchers mentioned in our May 5 article, Dr. Emily Fairfax and Dr. Joe Wheaton, gave keynote talks at the conference. There were also speakers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, US Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly for letting us know about this case.

Beavers can affect wildfires

Their dams create wetlands affecting vegetation type, fuel moisture, and local humidity

American Beaver
American Beaver. Photo by Steve from Washington.

The job of a beaver is to build a dam and lodge across creeks using tree branches, vegetation, rocks, and mud. They chew down trees for building material. Dams impound water and lodges serve as shelters. Their infrastructure raises the water table and creates wetlands used by many other species, and because of their effect on other organisms in the ecosystem, they are considered a keystone species.

This storage of water can change the vegetation type as well as the moisture content in the live and dead fuel. Wetlands usually do not burn in a wildfire and they can serve a barrier to its spread.

However, beavers can also be a nuisance and can damage crops, timber, roads, ditches, gardens, and pastures by cutting trees, burrowing, or flooding areas.

Wetland created by beavers Sharps Fire
Wetland created by beavers in Baugh Creek in Idaho, part of the Sharps Fire.

The BeaversandBrush.com website is a not-for-profit publication, “Created by Californians seeking to protect California from wildfire. We can help one another to safety by welcoming back native beavers and traditional prescribed burning of brush.”

Photos from their website show the change in a creek after beavers moved in.

Beaver dams at Susie Creek
Beaver dams at Susie Creek, from BeaversAndBrush.com

An article by Lucy Sherriff at the Sierra Club’s website explores how beavers can change the landscape, including their effects on wildland fires.

[Dr. Emily] Fairfax began to carry out the scientific research that she had hoped to find. Using satellite images, she mapped vegetation around beaver territories before, after, and during wildfires (footage of wildfires in progress can show how a fire moves through a landscape). She visited field sites in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming and found sections of creek that did not have beavers were on average more than three times as affected by fire—burning a bigger area—than areas where beavers had built dams.

“I expected some of the time beaver dams would work,” says Fairfax. Instead, she found the presence of beavers had significant effects. “It didn’t matter if it was one pond or 55 ponds in a row. If there were beaver dams, the land was protected from fire. It was incredible.”

Fairfax hopes her research will help change California’s strict rules around beaver relocation, the way policy is already changing in Washington, especially as wildfires in California have reached record-breaking levels over the past several years.

Meanwhile, Fairfax’s research on beavers and wildfires is only beginning. “I set out to ask a question: Do beavers keep the land green during fires, yes or no?” she says. “The answer was yes. But that’s not the end of the story. Why? How? Does this happen everywhere? What if you have a tight canyon? I’m digging into the specifics now, so people can implement this and actually use beavers for fire prevention. I would love to be able to call someone up and tell them how many beaver dams they need in their creek.

“Right now I have so little advice on how to do it. But at least I can now say it works.”

The two-minute video below is a brief introduction to beavers. It appears to be an excerpt from an episode of “Nature”, titled, “Leave it to Beavers.”

Two women killed in I-15 accident as smoke obscured the highway

In Northern Montana north of Conrad

 I-15 North of Conrad, MT fire
Heat from a fire detected by a satellite near I-15 north of Conrad, MT, May 3, 2021 near the site of the fatal crash as reported by the Montana Highway Patrol.

A tractor-trailer that slowed as it traveled through a cloud of smoke from a controlled burn near the highway led to a chain-reaction crash on Interstate 15 near Conrad May 3, killing two young women from Columbia Falls.

A chain reaction series of crashes began when a tractor trailer slowed to 25 mph as it entered the smoke according to the Montana Highway Patrol (MHP). A second tractor trailer plowed into the first, then a sedan with the two women hit the second truck and a fourth vehicle, a sedan, hit the vehicle with the two women, who died at the scene. Four people in the fourth vehicle were injured.

The crash occurred at approximately 1:15 p.m. on I-15 at mile marker 344, about five miles north of Conrad, 0.78 mile south of Ledger Road (MT 366).

During a 2:54 p.m. MDT overflight on the day of the crash a satellite detected heat from a fire just west of the location of the crash reported by the MHP. According to Google Earth imagery virtually everything within a mile of the site, other than roads, is agricultural fields, including the location of the detected fire. It appears likely that the controlled burn was from agricultural or debris burning, rather than a prescribed burn used by land managers to reduce hazardous fuels or restore fire to a fire dependent ecosystem.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick.

May 4 is International Firefighters’ Day

Thank a firefighter today

night firefighting
Barry Koncinsky running a chain saw on the El Cariso Hotshots, in 1971. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

International Firefighters’ Day was established in 1999 to honor the lives of five firefighters who died in a wildfire in Linton, Victoria, Australia, on December 2, 1998 – Garry Vredeveldt, Chris Evans, Stuart Davidson, Jason Thomas, and Matthew Armstrong.

May 4 has been selected as a day to recognize the service and sacrifice that all firefighters around the world make daily. Here at Wildfire Today we especially appreciate wildland firefighters, tactical athletes who take on vegetation fires from the air, from engines, and those on foot using hand tools while carrying 45 pounds of gear.

We also need to recognize the others who work at logistics, dispatch, warehouses, and tanker bases. Just as important are the families of these men and women who temporarily lose their spouse, son, or daughter for weeks at a time during the fire season. Too often there is an empty seat at anniversaries, birthdays, soccer games, and summer vacations.

Thank a firefighter today.

Fire within CZU Lightning Complex burns 7 acres

In Big Basin State Park south of San Francisco — may be a holdover from the fire 9 months ago

Basin Fire at 12:25 PDT May 2, 2021
Basin Fire at 12:25 PDT May 2, 2021. From PG&E camera.

On Monday firefighters suppressed a fire that burned within the perimeter of the CZU Lightning Complex of fires. The blaze was in Big Basin Redwoods State Park south of San Francisco and could be a holdover from the 86,502-acre blaze from August, 2020.

When firefighters hiked into the fire it was less than two acres, but with the assistance of aircraft they stopped the spread after it burned about seven acres.

In January several other holdover fires were found in the footprint of the same fire.

Map of Fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties
Map of Fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, Jan. 19, 2021.

There is a chance that considering the numerous very large fires that spread through California and Oregon last year, and with lower than normal precipitation during the winter, other similar holdover fires will be discovered. In many cases since they are within the burn perimeter, they may not be a serious problem. But if they are in a large unburned island, burning embers lofted into the air could ignite spot fires some distance away, perhaps outside the perimeter where there is an abundance of available fuel.

The Park has been closed for the last 9 months after the fire destroyed most of the infrastructure. On August 28, 2020 the Park released a list of the structures that were known to have been destroyed at that time:

  • Historic Park Headquarters
  • Historic (Main) lodge
  • Ranger Station
  • Nature Museum
  • Store
  • Maintenance Shop
  • Multiple park residences, including some Saddle Mountain Property structures
  • Multiple campground bathrooms
  • Gatehouse
  • Bridge between North Escape Road and Gazos Creek Road
  • Many structures at Little Basin
  • Jay Camp Seasonal Housing

Southern Fire burns structures southeast of Julian, CA

CAL FIRE reports it has blackened 5,184 acres

Updated at 4:54 p.m. PDT May 2, 2021

Southern Fire map
Southern Fire map at approximately 2 p.m. PDT May 2, 2021. Data from NIFC/FIRIS.

CAL FIRE has updated size of the Southern Fire near Shelter Valley 8 miles southeast of Julian, California, reporting at 2:35 p.m. Sunday that it had burned 5,184 acres.

As seen in the photo below taken at 4:43 p.m. Sunday four miles away from Monument Peak, the fire from that distance looks pretty quiet.

Southern Fire
The Southern Fire (at the arrow) as seen from Monument Peak, looking north at 4:43 p.m. PDT May, 2, 2021. ALERTWildfire.

Resources assigned to the fire include 20 engines, 8 water tenders, 10 hand crews, and four dozers, for a total of about 200 personnel.


10:00 a.m. PDT May 2, 2021

Southern Fire map 3:18 a.m. PDT May 2, 2021
Southern Fire map, APPROXIMATE LOCATION, from data as late as 3:18 a.m. PDT May 2, 2021. It is based on satellite and FIRIS data. This is APPROXIMATE fire location information, not to be used for planning or decision making.

The Southern Fire in East San Diego County 8 miles southeast of Julian, California has prompted the evacuation of about 500 people and destroyed three structures in Shelter Valley. The residents were relocated from the Butterfield Ranch Campground to Agua Caliente.

At 9:43 a.m. Sunday there was a relatively small amount of smoke visible from Monument Peak which is near Mount Laguna.

Southern Fire May 2, 2021
The Southern Fire as seen from Monument Peak, looking north at 9:43 a.m. PDT May 2, 2021. ALERTWildfire.

At about 9 a.m. PDT Sunday morning CAL FIRE reported that the Southern Fire had burned 2,900 acres. (See map above.) Firefighters battled strong 40 to 60 mph winds during the night, and according to the forecast the weather is going to continue to be a challenge.

A wind advisory is in effect for San Diego County for strong winds through Sunday night. In the fire area the wind is predicted to increase from 23 mph gusting to 36 at 11 a.m. out of the west and west-southwest, to 32 mph gusting to 47 by 5 p.m. It will then gradually decrease by 6 a.m. Monday to 12 mph gusting to 20 out of the northwest. The high temperature on Sunday will be 77 degrees with a minimum relative humidity of 27 percent. The humidity will increase Sunday night to 40 to 55 percent.

Five miles west of the fire and 2,000 higher in elevation at Harrison Park, Cuyamaca State Park, and Julian, low clouds have increased the humidity to 100 percent.

Since the fire was reported at about 4 p.m. on Saturday, it has been spreading generally to the east and southeast.