Beaver festival planned for Saturday

August 1, 2008 4:57:16 PM PDT
The Martinez non-profit organization "Worth a Dam" will host a beaver festival Saturday to celebrate the Alhambra Creek beaver family, according to event organizer Linda Meza.

The festival is being held in conjunction with the Willows Theater production of "Sacajawea" and will feature ecological and wildlife displays, an hourly raffle, children's art activities and live music from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., between the theater's matinee and evening performances.

The festival, which organizers hope will become an annual event, will be held near the beaver family's secondary dam on the grassy area at the corner of Marina Vista and Alhambra Avenue in downtown Martinez.

Beaver experts will be on hand to give tours and answer questions about the beaver family, which now boasts eight members -- two parents, two yearlings and four kits that were born in March or April, Meza said.

The beavers, who built their dam in 2006 in the path of the city's $9.7 million flood control project, have been an ongoing source of controversy since October when a hydrology study found that the dam significantly increased the chance of flooding in downtown Martinez.

The main dam was initially estimated to be about 6 feet tall and is located in Alhambra Creek between Escobar Street and Marina Vista.

After the hydrology study came out, the city applied for a depredation permit from the California Department of Fish and Game, but loud public outcry forced them to rethink their proposed solution.

Even after the city proposed relocating the beavers instead of killing them, beaver supporters objected and the city eventually agreed to establish a beaver subcommittee that has been studying ways to protect the city from flooding without having to remove the dam.

The beaver subcommittee hired a beaver expert who traveled from Vermont to Martinez to install a pond leveler, or "beaver deceiver" -- plastic tubing that allows water to flow quietly through the dam without the beavers' knowledge.

Public works employees also reduced the height of the dam and installed a cable that would allow them to quickly remove the dam if the creek started to flood.

Meanwhile, winter rains came and the creek swelled, but before it overflowed its banks, the water washed the dam away. The beavers rebuilt their dam when the storm passed.

The beavers have also caused other problems. They have taken down about 64 trees in the area since they took up residence in the city and have burrowed into the creek bank.

"Worth a Dam" has been working to mitigate the damage caused by the beavers and has so far planted 30 trees in the creek bed, some of which the beavers have already helped themselves to, Meza said.

Meza said "Worth a Dam" was working on other habitat restoration projects as well, such as shoring up creek beds and wrapping trees so the beavers can't get to them.

While the city still has not decided whether to let the beavers stay, Vice Mayor Mark Ross said that since the council went on summer vacation, "there has been a quiet period of enjoyment of the beavers."

However, he noted that the beaver festival Saturday is being held "much to the chagrin of some of my fellow council members."


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