EPIC: Beavers, Fishers & Elk, Oh My!

Tom Wheeler, EPIC Executive Director

EPIC is hard at work to protect the wildlife of the North Coast. Here are a couple updates on some of our favorite furry friends.

Beavers

Beaver Swimming in a river. Source: Liron Malyanker, Pexels.com

New protections are on the way for beavers, thanks to a petition filed by EPIC and our allies. Beavers are nature’s engineers, creating freshwater habitats used by a variety of wildlife, including fish, birds, and other mammals. Their dams filter stream water, improve water quality, raise the water table, increase water storage, and repair eroded riparian areas. Beavers are so important that the National Marine Fisheries Service included beaver restoration as a goal in the recovery plan for the Southern Oregon/Northern California coastal coho salmon. It’s not just fish either. Beavers are also known to benefit willow flycatchers, least Bell’s vireos, western pond turtles, and California red-legged frogs. 

Beavers have had it rough in the Golden State. Early fur trappers nearly wiped out all beavers from the state before the California Gold Rush and still today beavers are missing from the majority of their historic range in the state, including in the North Coast. Despite this, California provided very little protection for beavers. Because they are born to build dams, they can sometimes be a nuisance to property owners concerned with flooding and tree damage. Lax rules have meant that California allowed more than 700 beavers to be killed annually in the state through “depredation permits” issued by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

In the past, it was too easy to receive a depredation permit. In 2019, EPIC and allies filed a rulemaking petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to protect beavers. In response to EPIC’s petition, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has worked to craft internal Department policy that accomplishes the same purpose. The new guidance, signed on June 5, requires a case-by-case examination of “problem” beavers and empowers Department staff to require non-lethal alternatives to killing beavers. Similar policy directives have been successfully used to help reduce conflicts between mountain lions and humans in Southern California.  EPIC’s petition before the Commission is still active and we are going to test how the Department implements its new policy directive.Viva la beaver!

Fishers

Pacific Fisher. Photo by USFS Pacific Southwest Region.

EPIC has been trying to list the Pacific fisher, a slightly-larger relative of the Humboldt marten, under the Endangered Species Act since 2000. Once roaming nearly the whole of West Coast forests, the fisher’s range has been reduced to just two extant populations, one in the Southern Sierras and another in Southern Oregon/Northern California. 

In the waning days of the Trump administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied protections to the majority of Pacific fishers, narrowly listing only one population of fishers in the Southern Sierras while denying protections for the population in Southern Oregon/Northern California. So we did what we do best: we sued the Service. In a settlement with the agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed on Friday to reconsider whether West Coast fishers in northern California and southern Oregon warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. 

Elk

Elk. Source: Josh Meeder, Pexels.com

Roosevelt elk are charismatic and charming—and an important food for the Indigenous people of the North Coast. However, state rules regulating elk have prioritized non-native hunters over tribal consumptive uses and non-consumptive use. The draft North Coast Elk Management Unit Plan continues this sad tradition, prioritizing high-cost elk tags on private land at the expense of tribes and tribal citizens. Private landowners can be paid to allow elk hunting on their property and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has prioritized elk hunting tags from these properties as a way to reduce “conflict” between elk and property owners. This has resulted in expensive elk tag auctions that exclude tribal citizens.

EPIC is working to reprioritize tribal access to healthy elk. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife should work to recognize the reserve hunting rights of North Coast tribes and work in cooperation with tribal governments to regulate elk hunting in a manner that prioritizes tribal citizens.