Environmental group threatens to sue over beaver killings in California

An environmental group has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop killing beavers until the department consults with other federal agencies about the effects of killing beavers on endangered species.

An environmental group wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop killing beavers.

Noting that nearly 7,000 beaver were killed in California from 2010 to 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity has asked the department to consult with other federal agencies about how beaver killing affects endangered species.

The center sent a letter to the agriculture department telling the agency it plans to sue if it doesn't consult with other federal agencies.

When beavers build dams and create ponds, the rodents create rearing habitat for young salmon that in some cases are endangered species, said Collette L. Adkins, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The agriculture department's Wildlife Services is often hired to trap or kill nuisance animals such beaver, mountain lion, bear and many species of birds.

But Adkins said Wildlife Services is required to consult with other federal agencies to determine if endangered species are affected by killing or trapping beavers.

A USDA Wildlife Services employee poses with dead beavers.

“Not only are beavers ecologically important, they’re smart, hardworking and adorable,” Adkins said. “My heart breaks for the thousands of beavers needlessly shot and trapped by Wildlife Services.”

More:Group wants federal program to stop killing thousands of wild animals in Shasta County

The ponds created by beavers are good for the environment and benefit several different fish, frog and bird species, she said.

Tanya Espinosa, a department of agriculture spokeswoman, said her agency already consults with federal agencies before killing beavers.

Adkins acknowledged Wildlife Services has begun consulting with other federal, but she said they had not yet completed a biological assessment of the effect beaver killing has on endangered species.

Citing agriculture department figures, Adkins included in her letter to the agriculture department a table that shows a breakdown of the number of beaver killed in each California county from 2010 to 2017.

Statewide, there were 6,952 beavers killed during that period. Of those, 57 were in Shasta County, 41 in Siskiyou County and three in Trinity County. 

There were no beavers listed as killed in Tehama County, according to the center's table of figures.

Elsewhere, the counties that had the highest number of beaver killings were Sacramento, Placer and Yolo. The three counties combined had 3,092, the center's table of figures shows.

A USDA employee prepares a body hold trap for beavers.

Espinosa said, too, there are a variety of reasons people ask Wildlife Services to get rid of beavers.

Some of those "include burrowing/undermining levees and floodwater control infrastructure, blocking water conveyance, flooding and agricultural damage to vineyards, orchards, crops, etc.," she said.

The Shasta County Board of Supervisors voted last year to terminate a contract with Wildlife Services after it received a letter from Animal Legal Defense Fund in Cotati objecting to the agency killing the animals without first doing an environmental study into the effects of its work.

More:Shasta County severs ties with federal agency over wildlife deaths

Adkins said people and organizations often ask to have beavers killed because of the harm they do to trees and the damage from the flooding caused by the dams they construct.

A California Department of Fish and Wildlife website says people can take steps to protect trees and reduce flooding from beavers.

Fencing material can be placed around individual trees or groups of trees can be fenced off to keep out beavers, the state said.

There also are devices that can be placed in beaver dams that allow some water to pass through dams and reduce the amount of flooding, Adkins said.

While some want beavers removed in some areas, a group of federal biologists recently re-introduced beavers to Sugar Creek in Siskiyou County's Scott Valley.

The project, which included building a beaver dam, was completed by officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries officials.

Officials said bringing beavers back to the stream would improve habitat for coho salmon and other fish.

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Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter. He is among the first on the scene at breaking news incidents, reporting real time on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Damon is part of a dedicated team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-225-8226 and damon.arthur@redding.com. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!