Beaver expert prepares dam for big storm

January 2, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The city of Martinez has come up with a new, long-term solution to the controversy over the beavers that built a big dam on Alhambra Creek in the downtown area. They've hired a consultant who specializes in deceiving beavers like these.

Half of the beaver dam in Alhambra has been removed in order to save it in the long-term. However, critics say taking too much away could amount to a beaver eviction.

With winter storms bearing down on the Bay Area, Vermont wildlife biologist Skip Lisle traveled to Martinez to take down the town's now famous beaver dam by two-and-a-half feet.

"We're reducing the size of the beaver dam. It's gotten quite tall over the months, so we have to bring it down a bit," says Lisle.

Lisle has no plans to take apart the once six-foot tall dam completely. Rather, he'll install a device he calls the beaver deceiver, designed to keep the busy animals from rebuilding their structure to a height that could cause flooding.

It's the same pipe system Lisle's used in 20 states and as far away as Poland.

"You're basically sneaking water away from them. You put a filter on the end of the pipe that disperses the water over a broad area, so the beavers don't detect its loss," explains Lisle.

Heidi Perryman sits on the city's newly formed beaver subcommittee and says she's "happy they're doing it because it's part of a long-term plan for being able to keep the beavers."

Still, it seems where the Alhambra beavers are concerned there's always an unhappy onlooker.

"They're way overreacting to this right now because all the floods that have ever come into Martinez for over a hundred years have always come down Castro and Alhambra streets," says Mike Alford, an onlooker.

Until the beaver deceiver is installed, the beavers will likely begin to rebuild with whatever's handy -- things like trees, mud, bushes, garbage, bottles and plastic bags.

"People often say beavers are very dirty animals, but I've pulled out so much human garbage out of that dam, it's amazing," says Lisle.

The city hopes to have the pipe system in place Thursday. In the meantime, the city also has a backup plan. If the water level gets to within about a foot from the bridge up the street, they will employ a cable system that's in place, and they will actually pull the dam right out if they need to prevent any flooding. They say that is only an extreme measure.