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The historical range of beaver (Castor canadensis) in coastal California - an updated review of the evidence

  • Institute for Historical Ecology
Fall 2013
California Fish and Game is published quarterly by the California Department of
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Please direct correspondence to:
Vernon C. Bleich, Ph.D.
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California Fish and Game
Fall 2013
Published Quarterly by
ISSN: 0008-1078 (print)
ISSN: 2331-0405 (online)
Jerry Brown, Governor
John Laird, Secretary for Natural Resources
Michael Sutton, President
Richard B. Rogers, Vice President
Jim Kellogg, Member
Jack Baylis, Member
Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, Member
Sonke Mastrup, Executive Director
Charlton “Chuck” Bonham, Director
Vern Bleich ........................................................................................Editor-in-Chief
Debra Hamilton ............ Ofce of Communication, Education and Outreach - AVU
Jeff Villepique, Steve Parmenter ........................................... Inland Deserts Region
Scott Osborn .................................................................................... Wildlife Branch
Dave Lentz, Kevin Shaffer ............................................................. Fisheries Branch
Peter Kalvass, Nina Kogut .................................................................Marine Region
James Harrington, Joel Trumbo .................Ofce of Spill Prevention and Response
Paul Hofmann ......................................................................... North Central Region
Fall 2013
Notes from the Editor
Vernon C. BleiCh ............................................................................................................164
Barotrauma related mortality of Florida-strain largemouth bass from winter
tournaments in Diamond Valley Lake, California
Quinn Granfors ............................................................................................................... 165
Checklist of inland aquatic Isopoda (Crustacea: Malacostraca) of California
G. o. GraeninG and d. Christopher roGers ................................................................... 176
The historical range of beaver (Castor canadensis) in coastal California:
an updated review of the evidence
Christopher W. lanman, Kate lundQuist, heidi perryman, J. eli asarian,
BroCK dolman, riChard B. lanman, miChael m. polloCK ........................................... 193
Desert tortoise road mortality in Mojave National Preserve, California
deBra l. huGhson and neal darBy ...............................................................................222
Observations on the ectoparasites of elasmobranchs in San Francisco Bay,
ronald a. russo ..............................................................................................................233
Orange coloration in a black-and-yellow rocksh (Sebastes chrysomelas) from
central California
KeVin o. leWand, John r. hyde, VinCe p. BuonaCCorsi, and roBert n. lea ................ 237
Subject matter index ...................................................................................................... 240
Author index ................................................................................................................... 242
List of reviewers .............................................................................................................243
Books available for review ............................................................................................244
Information for contributors ........................................................................................245
California Fish and Game 99(4):164; 2013
Notes from the Editor
With this issue comes the close of volume 99 of California Fish and Game,
California’s longest-running continuously published scientic journal. In 1914, when
California Fish and Game rst appeared, I doubt that the then editor considered the
possibility that the journal would still be published 100 years later; I am pleased to see that
it is, and I trust that Leadership appreciates the effort that has gone into producing it over
the past century. Surely the initial editor, H. C. Bryant, did not envision a time in which the
journal would be produced electronically and become available immediately to researchers
throughout the world.
California Fish and Game was rst published electronically as Volume 99 (3),
earlier this year. With electronic publication, the journal also became one of “open access”
and is available at no cost to interested researchers. There are many advantages to open
access journals, among which are unrestricted access to research publications. Open access
provides a worldwide audience larger than that of any subscription-based journal and, thus,
increases the visibility and impact of published works. Open access also enhances indexing
and retrieval power, and eliminates the need for permissions to reproduce and distribute
content. I think it is safe to announce that California Fish and Game is fully committed to
free, international access to all articles as soon as they are published.
With the close of volume 99, I want to thank Paul Hofmann, who has resigned
after serving as an Associate Editor for nearly 20 years. I also want to acknowledge the
willingness of several incoming Associate Editors that will be responsible for processing
manuscripts in their respective areas of expertise, and who will be announced in the rst
issue of Volume 100. All Associate Editors serve in a volunteer capacity, and without their
dedication and desire to help California Fish and Game be the successful journal that it is,
publication could not continue.
I also want especially to acknowledge the contributions of Ms. Debra Hamilton,
who handles all of the layout work for the journal (in addition to her regular responsibilities
in the Audio Visual Unit), and those of Ms. Kirsten Macintyre, who has handled the mailing
list, invoicing for page charges, complaints from subscribers, and the distribution of back
issues, as well as supporting requests from the editor for better equipment, compatible
software, and occasional travel expenditures. The amount of effort put forth by Debra and
Kirsten in producing California Fish and Game is not readily apparent, and it is essential
that their efforts be recognized.
During 2014, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will publish the 100th
volume of California Fish and Game. Several special issues are planned to commemorate
this occasion, with the plan that each special issue will follow a particular theme. I look
forward to the publication of volume 100, and to continuing the ne tradition that has been
the agship of this publication over the past 100 years.
Vernon C. Bleich
Fall 2013
The historical range of beaver (Castor canadensis) in coastal
California: an updated review of the evidence
Christopher W. lanman, Kate lundQuist, heidi perryman, J. eli
asarian, BroCK dolman, riChard B. lanman*, miChael m. polloCK
Institute for Historical Ecology, 556 Van Buren Street, Los Altos, CA 94022, USA (CWL, RBL)
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center WATER Institute, 15290 Coleman Valley Road,
Occidental, CA 95465, USA (KL, BD)
Worth a Dam, 3704 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Suite 319, Lafayette, CA 94549, USA (HP)
Riverbend Sciences, P.O. Box 2874, Weaverville, CA 96093, USA (JEA)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725
Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, WA 98112, USA (MMP)
The North American beaver (Castor canadensis) has not been considered
native to the watersheds of coastal California or the San Francisco Bay
Area. These assertions form the basis of current wildlife management
policies regarding that aquatic mammal, and they date to the rst half
of the 20th century. This review challenges those long-held assumptions
based on veriable (physical) and documented (reliable observational)
records. Novel ndings are facilitated by recently digitized information
largely inaccessible prior to the 21st century. Understanding that beaver
are native to California’s coastal watersheds is important, as their role in
groundwater recharge, repair of stream channel incision, and restoration
of wetlands may be critically important to the conservation of threatened
salmonids, as well as endangered amphibians and riparian-dependent birds.
Key words: beaver, California, Castor canadensis, fur trade, historic
range, San Francisco Bay
The currently recognized historic range of the beaver (Castor canadensis) in
California, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) (California
Department of Fish and Game 2005, Zeiner et al. 1990) includes only the Central Valley,
California Fish and Game 99(4):193-221; 2013
the Pit, McCloud and Klamath River drainages of far northern California, and the lower
Colorado River in the extreme southeastern corner of the State. This limited range appears
to be based on monographs by early twentieth century zoologists Joseph Grinnell (1937) and
Donald Tappe (1942). Both authors excluded the San Francisco Bay Area from the beaver’s
conrmed native range except where the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers
(Delta) reaches the easternmost portion of Suisun Bay. Those authorities also concluded the
range of beavers did not extend into southern California except along the lower Colorado
River. Grinnell et al. (1937) also excluded all coastal watersheds from the early 20th century
range except the upper Klamath River from the Scott River and east. Tappe (1942) extended
the historical range relative to Grinnell to include the lower Klamath and Trinity Rivers and
other coastal streams, but only as far south as the Little River, about 57 km south of the
Klamath. Tappe (1942:14) speculated that, south of these northernmost California coastal
streams, beaver were absent because the climate was more arid, and that coastal “stream
beds are for the most part rocky and steep with but little beaver food growing along them,
conditions which limit their suitability for this animal.”
Tappe’s description of coastal stream geomorphology is inaccurate for many
watersheds south of the Klamath River, where numerous streams pass through low-gradient
alluvial valleys rich with silt, creating habitat conditions quite suitable for beaver. While far
south of the Klamath River precipitation does appreciably decrease, the notion that aridity
limits beaver populations conicts with the well-established historic and contemporary
occurrences of beaver in the lower Colorado River, and the Alamo River in the Imperial
Valley (Grinnell et al. 1937), the Mojave River (Lovich 2012), the Virgin and Humboldt
Rivers of Nevada, Arizona’s Gila and San Pedro Rivers (the latter known to fur trapper
James Ohio Pattie as “Beaver River”) (Allen 1895), and watersheds in the Mexican States
of Sonora and Tamaulipas (Morgan 1868, Naiman 1988).
Casting further doubt on Tappe’s speculation that more southerly coastal streams
are unsuitable for beaver are observations that numerous colonies have for decades thrived
in coastal streams. For example, beaver are reportedly present along the Big River in
Mendocino County (Hall 1966), Pescadero Creek in San Mateo County, Meadow Creek in
San Luis Obispo County (Christopher 2004), the Salsipuedes Creek tributary to the Santa
Ynez River in Santa Barbara County, San Mateo Creek in San Diego and Orange Counties,
and Tucalota Creek in Riverside County (Longcore et al. 2007) and Temecula Creek in San
Diego County (Atkinson et al. 2003), both tributary to the Santa Margarita River.
Grinnell et al. (1937) and Tappe (1942) also excluded the Sierra Nevada, opining
that beaver did not occur above 305 meters (1,000 feet) in the rivers draining into the
California Central Valley. However, recent physical evidence indicates that beaver lived in
the Sierra Nevada until at least 1850 (James and Lanman 2012). In addition, Lanman et al.
(2012) reported multiple reliable observer records of beaver in streams in watersheds from
the western and eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, extending from the northern to southern
boundaries of that mountain range. These ndings prompted our search for evidence that
might extend the historic range of beaver to coastal California watersheds.
In this paper, we review available veriable (physical) and documented (reliable
observational) records of the historic presence of beaver in California coastal watersheds and
tributaries to San Francisco Bay, facilitated by relatively open access to recently digitized
archival materials. Supplementary evidence is also reviewed and includes ethnographic
information, reviews of geographic place names, and historical newspaper accounts, all of
which serve primarily to support the higher order levels of evidence. We hypothesize that
Fall 2013
beaver were native to the streams and rivers of California’s coast and San Francisco Bay and
that the exclusion of these areas in the early 20th century range maps proposed by Grinnell
et al. (1937) and Tappe (1942) were primarily a result of the near extirpation of beaver from
most of California prior to their research, the absence of pre-20th century specimens from
California museums, and limited access to historic records, which at the time (unlike today)
were widely dispersed, uncatalogued and not yet digitized.
MAteRiAls And Methods
Study areas and time period.—To organize the geographic breadth of the evidence,
we divided our study area into ve regions: (1) coastal watersheds in Del Norte, Siskiyou, and
Humboldt counties including the Klamath River west of (and inclusive of) the Scott River;
(2) coastal watersheds of Sonoma and Marin counties; (3) tributaries to San Francisco Bay
(parts of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and
San Francisco counties) including San Pablo Bay but not Suisun Bay; (4) coastal watersheds
of Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties; and (5)
coastal watersheds of Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties (Figures 1–3). With the
exception of archaeological beaver remains from the Subatlantic Holocene (< 2,400 years
BP), the time period of the evidence investigated to support the historic presence of beaver
in California begins with the Spanish settlement of San Diego in 1769 and ends before 1923,
when a 28-year long state-wide program of beaver translocations program began (Hensley
1946, Lynn and Glading 1949, Anonymous 1950).
Specimen and records search.—We searched for specimens of beaver prior to 1923
in all museum collections participating in the Mammal Networked Information System
(MaNIS) ( and the Arctos Multi-Institution and Multi-Collection
Museum Database ( via Boolean searches. In addition, we
contacted curators of mammal collections at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS),
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC), Moore Laboratory of Zoology,
Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ), San Diego Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara
Museum of Natural History, Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, National Museum of
Natural History (USNM), and the UCLA Dickey Collection. We used Web of Knowledge,
Google, and Google Scholar to search for historical fur-trapper records and ethnographic
evidence of beaver. We queried FAUNMAP (
search.html) for Castor remains found in late Holocene archaeological sites, and contacted
eight county historical societies for relevant source material. We also identied references
from citations in other publications that reviewed the historic ranges of other California
mammals (Schmidt 1991; Bockstoce 2005), and searched historical newspaper accounts
at the Library of Congress digitized “Historic American Newspapers” (1836-1922) (http:// , the California Digital Newspaper Collection (1847-present)
(, and NewspaperArchive (1847-present) (http://newspaperarchive.
com/). Further, we searched geographic place names using the United States Geological
Survey (USGS) Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) (https://geonames.usgs.
gov/pls/gnispublic) and toponomastic references (Gudde and Bright 2004, Durham 1998).
Evidence was ordered into three categories of decreasing reliability in accordance
with a classication scheme modied from Aubry et al. (2007). We considered physical
evidence of beaver such as specimens in museum collections and zooarchaeological evidence
to be the highest level of evidence (hereafter, veriable records); documented rst person
FiguRe 1.Veriable records (collection locations for museum specimens and zooarchaeological specimen
locations) and locations for historical documentary records (reliable observers) and geographic place names
including the word “beaver” for study region 1 (coastal watersheds in Del Norte, Siskiyou and Humboldt
counties, including the Klamath River west of the Shasta Valley, and extreme northern Mendocino County),
California, September 2013.
Fall 2013
FiguRe 2.Veriable records (collection locations for museum specimens and zooarchaeological specimen
locations) and locations for historical documentary records (reliable observers) and geographic place
names including the word “beaver” for study region 2 (coastal watersheds in western Sonoma and Marin
counties) and study region 3 (all counties with tributaries to San Francisco Bay west of the Carquinez
Strait), California, September 2013.
accounts of the historical occurrence of beaver by reliable observers such as scientists,
trappers, or rangers as the next highest level of evidence (hereafter, documented records);
and evaluation of habitat suitability, ethnolinguistic and ethnographic information, and
geographic place names as a lower level of evidence (hereafter, supplementary evidence).
Aubry et al. (2007) referred to his third order level of evidence as “anecdotal” but narrowly
dened this as visual observation made at a distance or tracks; therefore, we prefer the
term “supplementary” to include our expanded denition of this categorization. Historical
newspaper accounts were counted as documentary records if an animal was killed or captured
as per Aubry et al. (2007), or as supplementary evidence if the article merely mentioned a
beaver sighting.
FiguRe 3.Veriable records (collection locations for museum specimens and zooarchaeological specimen
locations), and locations for historical documentary records (reliable observers) and geographic place
names including the word “beaver” for study region 4 (coastal watersheds in Monterey, San Luis Obispo,
Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties), and for study region 5 (coastal watersheds in Orange,
Riverside and San Diego Counties), California, September 2013.
Fall 2013
Veriable evidence, all ve coastal regions.—The FAUNMAP query revealed no
late Holocene Castor remains in archaeological sites in any of the regions studied. However,
independent investigations identied beaver remains in the excavations of the Emeryville
Shellmound, located on Temescal Creek, 37 m from San Francisco Bay in Alameda County
(Figure 2). A “beaver [C. canadensis] tooth” from AD 300-500 (1500–1700 years Before
Present (BP)) was found in the Emeryville Shellmound, CA-ALA-309 (Bennyhoff 1986;
Uhle 1907). In addition, Cope (1985) identied three beaver bones, dating to 700 to 2600
radiocarbon years BP. Further, Broughton (1995: Table E8) identied an incisor tooth from
Uhle’s stratum 8. Associated material from that stratum is 2070 radiocarbon years BP.
On Arroyo de la Laguna Creek west of Interstate 680 in Pleasanton, Alameda
County, a beaver lower incisor was found at the CA-ALA-555 site (Figure 2). The tooth was
not radiocarbon dated, but was located in the lower part of the site that dates to 2200–1650
BP (Wiberg 1986). Arroyo de la Laguna is a low gradient, perennial stream in the Alameda
Creek watershed and drains to San Francisco Bay.
Archaeologists uncovered a beaver molar at CA-HUM-277 on the southern coast
of Humboldt County (Levulett 1985) (Figure 1). This site, located on coastal Randall Creek,
just south of the Mattole River, dates to between 1000 and 500 years BP based on the depth at
which it was found (W. Hildebrandt, Far Western Anthropological Research Group, personal
communication, 2013). However, the specimen has not undergone radioisotopic analysis.
Museum specimens, all ve coastal regions.—A MaNIS search combined with
direct inquiries to California museums for pre-1923 Castor specimens located only a single
vouchered specimen. That specimen, a beaver skull (catalogued MVZ Mammals 4918)
was collected by John Hornung on 19 May 1906 on Sespe Creek, a tributary of the Santa
Clara River, Ventura County. Grinnell (1937) was hesitant to accept the provenance of
this specimen and placed a question mark by its location on his range map. Hornung, an
NHMLAC zoologist, had collected many specimens for the MVZ as well as the American
Museum of Natural History (Loomis 1901, Osborn 1910) and CAS (Howell 1923). Recently
digitized correspondence between Grinnell and Hornung has become available and settles
this longstanding question. When Grinnell wrote Hornung asking for further details regarding
the specimen; Hornung (1914:1-2) wrote back: “... In reference to the beaver, I will say
that I murdered the specimen in question 3 miles east of Cold Springs. I was on horseback
and saw on the river, enormously swollen as the date which you have [19 May 1906], what
appeared to me as a dead large dog surrounded by branches of a big stump. This stump
was swimming in the water, but anchored in a tangled mass of some kind of a vine. After
some maneuvering I could reach this animal with a stick. As soon as I touched it, it showed
its teeth, and I knew then what unexpected nd I had made…A shot ended the animal’s
sufferings, and I secured the skull which you have…”. Hartman Cold Springs Ranch (34°
33’ N, 119° 15’ W) is located on upper Sespe Creek in the Sierra Madre Mountains at 1,025
m elevation and the creek along this stretch is quite low gradient, i.e. suitable beaver habitat.
Interestingly there is a Beaver Camp on the USGS GNIS at 1,000 m elevation about 1 km
east of Hartman Cold Springs Ranch, although its toponomastic origin is not known (Figure
3). In addition to the 1906 Sespe Creek beaver specimen, Hornung (1914:2) told Grinnell:
“There are still quite a few beaver in Southern California, myself being so lucky as to get
hold of one as late as Dec. 24, 1913, 3 weeks ago.”
A search of museums outside of California for pre-1923 beaver specimens revealed
a beaver skull identied as C. c. subauratus (USNM 580354) collected in December 1855
in Santa Clara, Santa Clara County, California by John Graham Cooper. Cooper lived in
Mountain View, California from 19 October to 1 December 1855 and collected specimens
for the USNM in Arroyo Quito (now Saratoga Creek) (Coan 1982), which ows to south
San Francisco Bay and was, until the 1870s, tributary to the Guadalupe River watershed
(Figure 2). This is the probable site of collection of the Santa Clara beaver specimen.
Documented records and supplementary evidence of beaver from the California
maritime fur trade.—James Cook’s discovery of sea otter (Enhydra lutris) on the west coast of
North America in 1778 led quickly to American ships from Boston dominating the maritime
fur trade south of Russian America (Alaska) (Bockstoce 2005). In addition, Vicente Vasadra
y Vega instructed California’s Mission Indians to procure otter pelts for Spain beginning
in 1786 (Ogden 1932). Evidence that American ships also took beaver from California’s
coastal watersheds is suggested by the log of the ship Albatross, which states that while
hunting and trading for fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus and Arctocephalus townsendi) and sea
otter on the Columbia River and California coast, the ship also obtained 248 beaver pelts
(Bancroft 1886). Another example of sea otter hunters taking coastal beaver is the Russian
American Fur Company ship Kodiak, piloted by Ivan Kuskov who sailed into Bodega Bay
in 1809 and returned to Novoarkhangelsk (Sitka, Alaska) with beaver skins and otter pelts
(Thompson 1896). When French sea captain Auguste Bernard Duhaut-Cilly visited the
coastal settlements of Alta California [Upper California as opposed to Baja California] in
1827–1828 on the ship Heros, he described the Indians hunting beaver: “For the skin of
a rabbit or a beaver the bow is bent, and the lethal arrow does not y through the air with
impunity…To prevent the sound of the string from warning the game, they wrap a small
part of it with a sleeve of beaver skin” (Duhaut-Cilly 1834).
Decades before Jedediah Smith led California’s rst overland beaver hunt and
reached the Klamath River mouth in Del Norte County in 1828 (Dale et al. 1918, Smith et
al. 1834) and before Peter Skene Ogden sent Hudson’s Bay Company parties to the area
from Oregon (Warner 1966), coastal Native Americans had apparently provided beaver,
along with sea otter pelts, to the visiting oceanic fur hunters: “From their rocky lookouts
the Indians of this remote coast had seen ships of many nations come and go, had even
traded for knives and trinkets, the beaver and otter skins being so plentiful that they wore
them for clothing” (Maloney 1940). In 1831 the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver
(on the Columbia River) complained that American ships had caused the price of beaver to
rise vefold on the coast and, after plying the coastal fur trade on the West Coast, Captain
John Dominis of the Owhyhee returned to Boston with 8,000–9,000 beaver pelts (Gibson
Documented records and supplementary evidence of beaver in coastal watersheds:
Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Humboldt Counties, including the Klamath River west of the Scott
River.— Documented records for this region begin with the accounts of Jedediah Smith’s
1828 journey from the Sacramento Valley near Red Bluff (Tehama County) northwest across
the mountains to the Pacic Ocean. Smith’s party observed beaver sign along the Trinity
River near the border of Humboldt and Trinity counties and traded with Yurok Indians for
beaver pelts while crossing the Klamath River at Met-tah as well as on the ridge between
the Klamath River and Redwood Creek in Humboldt County (Dale et al. 1918, Lewis 1943).
Smith also noted beaver sign on 5 June 1828 near the mouth of the Klamath River in Del
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Norte County: “In the vicinity I saw some Beaver sign but the tide setting up interfered
with the design of trapping” (Smith et al. 1934:96). These are the rst reports of beaver
on the lower Klamath River watershed, and the rst record of beaver in the tidal zone of
a California stream. Grinnell noted that beaver were plentiful on upper Klamath River
tributaries such as the Shasta River and Scott River in Siskiyou County until 1911 (Grinnell
et al. 1937). Fur trapper Joseph Meek took 1,800 beaver from the Scott River in 1850 (Tappe
1942). A letter written to Grinnell 29 January 1922 by Fish and Game Deputy H. S. Prescott
documents observation of beaver sign “up-river of Requa” in 1915–1916, and explains that
these lower Klamath River beaver were extirpated in 1917. In 1922, Prescott also noted
beaver sign (willow cuttings) on High Prairie Creek, near the mouth of the Klamath River
at Requa (Prescott 1922). Grinnell et al. (1937) remained skeptical of this record and placed
a question mark on their map of MVZ beaver records near the conuence of the Trinity and
Klamath Rivers labeled “C. c. shastensis.” Tappe’s later report (1942) cited additional take
of beaver on the lower Klamath in February 1827 by Peter Skene Ogden’s Hudson’s Bay
Company (Ogden and Elliot 1910). Based on the totality of the Smith and Ogden reports,
Tappe (1942) and Hensley (1946) extended Grinnell’s historic range map for beaver all the
way to coastal Del Norte and Humboldt counties.
California’s north coast was hunted by American and Hudson’s Bay Company fur
brigades in 1832–1833, and beaver were encountered in small numbers. In 1832, Ewing
Young’s American fur brigade ascended Putah Creek from the Sacramento River and
reached the coast about 120 km north of Fort Ross. From there they trapped up the coast
to the Umpqua River in Oregon “with little success” (Warner 1907:187, Hill 1923:32). In
1833, Michel Laframboise trapped from Bodega up the coast to Fort Vancouver in Oregon
“along the ridge that runs parallel to the sea” (Nunis 1968a:153). Although we could not
determine how many beaver Laframboise took from the North Coast Range, Hudson’s Bay
Company records indicate that his hunt was successful (Nunis 1968a). In April 1850, the
Laura Virginia entered Humboldt Bay and Charles Gilman (1901:40) wrote then of the
fauna of the Humboldt Bay area, “…what exceeds all I ever saw is the quantity of game
and sh. Elk, deer, black bear, and grizzly bear, beaver, otter, geese, ducks, curlews, snipe,
robin, partridge are without number...”.
Supplementary historical evidence of beaver from the watersheds of the North
Coast includes multiple toponomastic references including the word “beaver.” The Scott
River was formerly known as the Beaver River by nineteenth century trappers (Gudde and
Bright 2004). Several additional geographic place names are found in this region, including
two Beaver Creeks in Humboldt County and another Beaver Creek as well as a Beaver
Point in Mendocino County (Table 1). One of the Humboldt County “Beaver Creeks”
could be ascribed to a Mr. Jacob Beaver, who lived in 1890 at the Beaver Creek that meets
Redwood Creek at Beaver Flat, and is one mile from Beaver School (Turner and Turner
2010). However, the other Beaver Creek in Humboldt County ows into the Trinity River in
a valley separated from the Beaver residence by 14.3 km as well as 1,200 m elevation Pine
Ridge-Hupa Mountain. In addition, no eponymous origin for the Beaver Creek and Beaver
Glade Station on the Middle Fork of the Eel River could be found. Whether Beaver Point
referred to sea otter which were sometimes called “sea beaver” is unknown. Ethnolinguistic
records of North Coast Indian tribes are replete with the respective words for beaver (Table
2) including sa’kAntEldAn (Beaver Valley Place) and is located on the Eel River mainstem
upstream of Bell Springs Creek and just south of the Trinity County-Mendocino County
line (Baumhoff 1958).
Documented records and supplementary evidence of beaver in coastal watersheds:
western Sonoma and Marin Counties.—After Ivan Kuskov’s rst visit to Bodega Bay in
1809 (and return to Sitka with beaver pelts), he returned in 1811 on the schooner Chirikof,
and explored the Russian River for 80 km upstream. Next, Kuskov established the Russian
Name of
Coordinates of Feature
or Stream Mouth
Coastal Watershed
Scott River
Beaver River)
41° 47’ N, 123° 02’ W
Klamath River
Beaver Creek Humboldt 41° 06’ N, 123° 43’ W Trinity River to
Klamath River
Beaver Creek,
Beaver Ridge,
Beaver Butte,
Beaver Flat,
Beaver School
Humboldt 41° 01’ N, 123° 52’ W Redwood Creek
Beaver Slide Trinity 40° 12’ N, 123° 19’ W Mad River
Beaver Valley
Mendocino 39° 55’ N, 123° 28’ W Eel River
Beaver Creek,
Beaver Glade
Mendocino 39° 56’ N, 123° 00’ W Middle Fork Eel
River to Eel River
Beaver Point Mendocino 39° 24’ N, 123° 49’ W South of mouth of
Noyo River
Beaver Dam
Fire Control
San Benito 36° 23’ N, 120° 56’ W San Benito River to
Pajaro River
Laguna de las
Nutrias or
Tsǝpǝk isiyo
(Chumash for
Beaver Lake)
34° 37' N, 120° 17' W Santa Ynez River
Ventura 34° 36’ N, 119° 15’ W Sespe Creek to
Santa Clara River
Beaver Camp Ventura 34° 33’ N, 119° 15’ W Sespe Creek to
Santa Clara River
Beaver Hollow San Diego 32° 46’ N, 116° 51’ W Sweetwater River
tAble 1.—Geographic place names in coastal watersheds incorporating the word “beaver” (including the Klamath
River watershed west of the Scott River). All place names are from USGS GNIS except Beaver Valley Place
(Baumhoff 1958:172) and Laguna de los Nutrias (Harrington 1981), California, September 2013.
Fall 2013
from North
to South Coastal Watershed
or Bay/Channel Indian Word Source1
Tolowa Del Norte Smith River
(Crescent City)
sah’-hot Merriam
Karok Siskiyou Klamath River
(Happy Camp) sah’-peneetch
Coast Yurok Humboldt Trinidad Bay tes-a’r Heizer
Wiyot Humboldt Humboldt Bay he-wo’-li Merriam
Whilkut Humboldt Redwood Creek tch’wah’-i Merriam
Sinkyone Humboldt South Fork Eel
River ba-chen’-tel Merriam
Huchnom Mendocino Eel River
(Round Valley) tik-keh Powers
Pomo Mendocino Eel River
(Round Valley) kat-si-keh' Powers
Northern Pomo/
Tabate Mendocino Navarro River
(Anderson Valley) kah-ke’ Merriam
Central Pomo/
Yokaia/Yukai Mendocino Russian River
(Ukiah) kah-ke’
Northern Pomo/
Kaiyu Lake Tule Lake, Blue
Lakes chin-nor
Central Pomo/
Shanel Mendocino Russian River
(Hopland) kaht’-ka
Wappo Sonoma Russian River
(Alexander Valley) ma’-nah ow’-we Merriam
Gallinomero Sonoma Russian River
(Healdsburg) tek’-keh Powers
Southern Pomo/
Makahmo Sonoma Russian River
(Cloverdale Valley) tek’-ke
Kashaya Pomo/
Sonoma Russian River
(Fort Ross) ikh-shi
Bodega Miwok/
Olamentke Sonoma Bodega Bay poo K&VW
tAble 2.Tabulation of words for beaver used by Native American tribes inhabiting California’s coastal watersheds,
colony of Fort Ross 26 km north of Bodega Head in today’s Sonoma County (Thompson
1896). G. K. Blok (1933:189-190) described the natural resources of the Russian settlement
near “La Bodega”: “The rich, fertile soil and the abundance of seal, otter and beaver were the
principal factors which favored this colonization.” Fort Ross ofcial Kyrill T. Khlebnikov
reported that, “…although it happens rarely, nonetheless one does sometimes see close to
the American settlements American lions and amphibious animals such as river beavers and
otters” (Dmytryshyn and Crownhart 1976:142). The “American settlements” were lands
granted by Mariano Vallejo to three Americans to prevent Russian expansion southwest of
Bodega (Gudde and Bright 2004). These lands included the coastal watersheds of Salmon
Creek (Sonoma County), Americano Creek (Sonoma and Marin counties) and Russian River
tributary Atascadero Creek (Sonoma County). In August 1839, Captain Cyrille Laplace of
the Artemise, while travelling with Fort Ross manager Alexander Rotchev to the Khlebnikov
Ranch (now the town of Bodega), reported unmistakable beaver sign. Laplace (Farris and
Laplace 2006:54) said, “…we had stopped a moment by a little river [Salmon Creek] on
the banks of which my traveling companion pointed out to me the former habitations of
beaver, probably destroyed by the Indians to catch the rich prize that lay within.” Rotchev
then explained how the Indians close the entrance to beaver lodges in order to catch and
club them.
Sonoma Mission Sonoma
(Sonoma Creek) timis
Coast Miwok Marin Tomales Bay kah-ka’ Merriam
Costanoan Santa Cruz San Lorenzo River ha-mi-h’l, gupi
Costanoan Monterey Salinas River sur-ris Heizer
Ineseno Santa
Barbara Santa Ynez River che-puk’
Barbareño Santa
Barbara Santa Barbara
Channel ol-ko-osh
Ventureno Ventura Santa Clara River
Ventura River tsǝ’pǝk Henry
Tongva Los Angeles Santa Ana River,
Los Angeles River tooleva'che',
Luiseño San Diego San Luis Rey River 'eveeenxal Harrington
(Diegueno) San Diego San Diego River,
Tijuana River epín Ware
1Applegate 2007, Harrington 1981, Heizer 1974, Henry 2012, Kostromitinov and Von
Wrangell 1974 (K&VW), Merriam 1979, Powers 1877, Walker 2012, Ware 1968
tAble 2.–Continued.
from North
to South Coastal Watershed
or Bay/Channel Indian Word Source1
Tolowa Del Norte Smith River
(Crescent City)
sah’-hot Merriam
Karok Siskiyou Klamath River
(Happy Camp) sah’-peneetch
Coast Yurok Humboldt Trinidad Bay tes-a’r Heizer
Wiyot Humboldt Humboldt Bay he-wo’-li Merriam
Whilkut Humboldt Redwood Creek tch’wah’-i Merriam
Sinkyone Humboldt South Fork Eel
River ba-chen’-tel Merriam
Huchnom Mendocino Eel River
(Round Valley) tik-keh Powers
Pomo Mendocino Eel River
(Round Valley) kat-si-keh' Powers
Northern Pomo/
Tabate Mendocino Navarro River
(Anderson Valley) kah-ke’ Merriam
Central Pomo/
Yokaia/Yukai Mendocino Russian River
(Ukiah) kah-ke’
Northern Pomo/
Kaiyu Lake Tule Lake, Blue
Lakes chin-nor
Central Pomo/
Shanel Mendocino Russian River
(Hopland) kaht’-ka
Wappo Sonoma Russian River
(Alexander Valley) ma’-nah ow’-we Merriam
Gallinomero Sonoma Russian River
(Healdsburg) tek’-keh Powers
Southern Pomo/
Makahmo Sonoma Russian River
(Cloverdale Valley) tek’-ke
Kashaya Pomo/
Sonoma Russian River
(Fort Ross) ikh-shi
Bodega Miwok/
Olamentke Sonoma Bodega Bay poo K&VW
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Alexander McLeod of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s reported in 1829, “The Country
to the northward of Bodega is said to be rich in Beaver and no encouragement given to the
Indians to hunt” (Nunis 1968b:34). In 1833, John Work led a Hudson’s Bay Company fur
brigade from Fort Vancouver, Oregon to the Sonoma Mission (then Mission San Francisco
Solano). On 5 April, Work writes of some American trappers who said that between the
Russian establishment (Ft. Ross) and the Mission at Sonoma they “caught very few beaver”
(Maloney and Work 1944:19). Although Maloney (1943) reports that John Work found no
beaver on the coast from Fort Ross to Cape Mendocino, he turned east probably around
Shelter Cove, and on crossing the Russian River on the way to Clear Lake wrote that there
“are supposed to be beaver in the lower part of this Russian river” (Maloney 1944:30). This
report is consistent with another Sonoma County account regarding S. H. Torrance, who
settled on the Russian River across from Guerneville in 1856, and “engaged in trapping
beaver and in hunting,” dressing the skins and making them into gloves for sale (Lewis
Publishing Company 1889:573). Mariano Vallejo, on a return trip from Fort Ross to Mission
Sonoma, provided another report of beaver in the Russian River watershed: “Four leagues
away, more or less one nds Livantuligueni [Laguna de Santa Rosa], which forms in its
basin great tulare lakes teaming with beaver. One can nd here, as well as in other places,
some vestiges [left by] the foreigners who hunted these animals” (Vallejo 2000:6). Vallejo
(2000:5-6) described seeing Indians who by the “many hundreds were coming down from
their hill country to bring to the fort [Ross] the hides of wild animals which they traded for
tobacco, kerchiefs and liquor.”
Supplementary evidence of beaver in this region includes an historic newspaper
account and also places beaver in the Russian River watershed: “Beavers are being trapped
near Healdsburg” (Sacramento Daily Union 25 February 1881). The Southern Pomo, who
inhabited the lower half of the Russian River, had a word for beaver: ṱ’ek:e (N. Alexander
Walker, UC Santa Barbara, personal communication, 2011) and beavers in their oral legends
(Luthin 2002). In addition there are words for beaver for virtually all the coastal tribes in
this region (Table 2).
Documented records and supplementary evidence of beaver in coastal watersheds:
San Francisco Bay Area counties.—Although Grinnell et al. (1937) and Tappe (1942)
concluded that beaver were not present historically in the watersheds of the San Francisco
Bay Area downstream /west of the Carquinez Strait, more recent reviews indicate that
beaver “was one of the most valued of the animals taken,” and found in abundance (Skinner
1962:157). The earliest documentary record is from the second Anza Expedition sent to
found the Presidio at San Francisco. When the expedition halted on the banks of the Laguna
de los Dolores (the site of the future Mission Dolores) on 22 June 1776, Father Francisco
Palóu wrote of the Indians, “The men go totally naked, although here and there one covers
his shoulders with a sort of a little cape of beaver skins and pelican feathers” (Bolton and
Palou 1930:390). Over fty years later, in August 1827, Duhaut-Cilly (1834:243) observed
the Indians at Mission Sonoma, “the young men are letting y their arrows at the beaver...”.
In 1829, Alexander R. McLeod reported on the progress of the rst Hudson’s Bay
Company fur brigade sent to California, “Beaver is become an article of trafc on the Coast
as at the Mission of St. Joseph [Fremont] alone upwards of Fifteen hundred Beaver Skins
were collected from the natives at a triing value and sold to Ships at 3 Dollars” (Nunis
1968b:34). Skinner (1962) cited Thomas McKay’s statement that in one year [1829] the
Hudson’s Bay Company took 4,000 beaver skins on the shores of San Francisco Bay. In
1832, fur trapper Michel Laframboise travelled from the “Bonaventura River” (Sacramento
River) to San Francisco and then the missions of San Jose (Fremont), San Francisco Solano
(Sonoma) and San Rafael Arcangel (San Rafael). La Framboise stated that the Bay of San
Francisco abounds in beaver and that he “made his best hunt in the vicinity of the missions”
(Maloney and Work 1943:343). While staying with General Vallejo, Sir George Simpson
of the Hudson’s Bay Company wrote in 1842, “Beaver and otter have recently been caught
within half a mile of Mission San Francisco de Solano [Mission Sonoma]” (Simpson
1847:313). In 1840, the port of Alviso, Alameda County, shipped beaver pelts, cattle hides
and tallow to San Francisco (Mehaffy 1999). In the 1840s Kit Carson was granted rights
to trap beaver on Alameda Creek in the East Bay where they “abounded...from the mouth
of its canyon to the broad delta on the bay” (MacGregor 1976:13, Gustaitis 1995:69).
Skinner (1962:162) wrote that there is evidence that beaver were found historically “in
small numbers at least” in Coyote Creek (Santa Clara County), and Sonoma Creek (eastern
Sonoma County) and the Napa River (Napa County), although he did not provide primary
sources. This is consistent with John Work’s 1832 Hudson’s Bay Company expedition
account of beaver on Sonoma Creek in April (Maloney 1944), and on the Napa River in
May (Maloney 1944, Grossinger 2012). Also William Trubody, who arrived in California
in 1849, wrote of catching beaver on Napa Creek (upper Napa River) (Trubody and Camp
1937). Supplementary evidence of beaver in the San Francisco Bay Area include words
for beaver in the Coast Miwok and Mutsun Costanoans at Mission San Rafael and Mission
Santa Cruz (Table 2), but toponomastic references to beaver were not found.
Documentary records and supplementary evidence of beaver in coastal watersheds:
Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.—There are
several reliable observer records of beaver in these watersheds, complementing the MVZ
specimen from Sespe Creek. Before citation of accounts from the 18th century Spanish
explorations up coastal California, the translation of the Spanish word for beaver merits
discussion. The early diaries of the Spanish padres refer to both sea otter and beaver as
“nutria,” which in modern Spanish means “otter.” However, the historian Herbert Eugene
Bolton generally translates “nutria” as beaver, unless the words “nutria marinas” meaning
sea otter, are used (Bolton and Font 1930, Bolton and Palou 1930). Further evidence of the
use of the word “nutria” for beaver may be found in other records of the Spanish padres
and government ofcials in the late 18th century (Garces and Coues 1900, Barrows and
Wolfskill 1902). The misuse of “nutria” instead of “castor” for beaver by the late 18th
century Spanish in the American southwest occurred because both Eurasian otter (Lutra
lutra) and beaver (Castor ber) were extirpated in Spain by the 17th century (Halley et al.
2012). The third possible translation of “nutria” as meaning river otter (Lontra canadensis)
is unlikely in the accounts below, as this latter species’ range is not considered to extend
south of the Pajaro River watershed either historically or currently (Grinnell et al. 1937,
Morejohn 1969, Zeiner et al. 1990).
On the second Anza Expedition, Father Pedro Font, on 24 February 1776,
described coastal Chumash women wearing beaver capes (Bolton and Font 1930). Next,
Font visited the San Luis Obispo Mission on 2 March 1776 and wrote of the Indians, “…
the women wear capes of deer and beaver skin” (Bolton and Font 1930:272). Visiting
the mission again on 23 April 1776, Font says that Father Cavaller “gave Senor Ansa…
thirty-odd beaver skins…and gave me personally two choice beaver skins” (Bolton
and Font 1930:454). In October 1818, English explorer Peter Corney sailed into
Fall 2013
Monterey Bay on the Santa Rosa. He described the fauna of the Monterey area: “There
are many bears, wolves, foxes, deer, beavers, etc…” (Corney and Alexander 1896:44).
John Peabody Harrington (1981) provided three documentary records (circa 1900) of
beaver in two coastal watersheds of Santa Barbara County: Zanja de Cota Creek, a perennial
tributary of the Santa Ynez River downstream from the modern day Cachuma Dam, and San
Antonio Creek’s Los Alamos Valley in Los Alamos. Harrington also wrote that on the historic
Rancho Santa Rosa on the Santa Ynez River, “There is Otter lake, commonly called in Sp.
“Laguna de las Nutrias”… Otter lake is called in Indian “tšǝpǝk isiyo,” meaning “Laguna
de los Castores.” These animals are sometimes called las nutrias but incorrectly for they
are really beavers. The otter is an ocean creature. The Indians call otter ’ukpaaš. The Sp.
speaking people, however, Laguna de las nutrias. It should be called, however, Laguna de
los Castores.” The modern Spanish word for beaver is “castor.”
In addition to the above documented observer records, there is significant
ethnographic evidence that beaver lived in the region. On the Montgomery Potrero, the
divide between the upper watersheds of the Cuyama and Sisquoc Rivers in eastern Santa
Barbara County, a Chumash pictograph appears to represent a beaver (Lee and Horne 1978)
(Figure 3). Additionally, the Hearst Museum in Berkeley has a Ventureno Chumash shaman’s
rain-making kit, collected in 1948 when it was estimated at 100 years old by archaeologists
Frank Fenenga and Francis A. Riddell. The kit was made from the skin of a beaver tail and
kept in a tobacco sack. The shaman, Somik, was elderly when he lived at Fort Tejon in the
1870s (Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology 1-84666). Timbrook (2007:180) relates
a Chumash story where “a willow stick that had been cut by a beaver was thought to have
the power to bring water. The Chumash would treat the stick with ‘ayip (a ritually powerful
substance made from alum) and then plant it in the ground to create a permanent spring of
water.” In addition the Barbareno and Ventureno Chumash had a Beaver Dance (Timbrook
2007). Finally, the coastal Chumash tribes had words for beaver or Chipik, spelled č’ǝpǝk’
in Barbareno and tšǝ’pǝk in Ventureno (Timothy Henry, California State Fullerton, personal
communication, 2012), and č’ɨpɨk in Ineseño (Samala) (Applegate 2007).
A documentary record of historic beaver presence on the Los Angeles River is Father
Pedro Font’s description of the Beneme (Mojave) and Jeniguechi (San Jacinto branch of the
Cahuilla) Indians of Mission San Gabriel Arcangel on 5 January 1776, “…the women wear
a bit of deer skin with which they cover themselves, and likewise an occasional cloak of
beaver or rabbit skin” (Bolton and Font 1930:178-179). In addition, the Tongva or Gabrieleno
Indians of Mission San Gabriel had words for beaver tooleva’che’, toliiva’chi’, ‘eveenxar
(Merriam 1979) (Table 2). Although not coastal watersheds, we found Indian words for
beaver in the arid Antelope and Mojave Valleys, the Kitanemuk words cɨpɨʔkɨ and hurist
(Anderton 1988), and the Mojave word ‘apen (Munro et al. 1992), respectively.
Documentary records and supplementary evidence of beaver in coastal watersheds:
Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties.—We found two documented historic records
of beaver in San Diego County. The rst is contained in an 1864 report on the region’s
geography, geology, ora and fauna by David Hoffman, an early San Diego physician (Graves
1964). Hoffman (1864:154) stated, “Of the animal kingdom we have a very fair variety.
The grizzly bear, the mountain sheep, the antelope, the black bear, the deer, the pole-cat,
the beaver, the wild-cat, the otter, the fox, the badger, the hare, the squirrel, and cayotes[sic]
innumerable.” The second record is contained in a 20 January 1889 historical newspaper
article, “A beaver weighing forty pounds was on exhibition on Fifth street yesterday, having
been trapped by Joe McCord, who lives north of the city. It was the largest specimen ever
taken in this section” (San Diego Union 20 January 1889). The phrase “largest specimen”
suggests that other beavers had previously been caught.
Supplementary evidence of beaver in San Diego County includes a creek named
Beaver Hollow, tributary to the Sweetwater River (Durham 2001) (Figure 3). Beaver Hollow
is named on the historical USGS Topo Map for Cuyamaca in 1903, 20 years before CDFG
began beaver re-introductions in California (Goode 1903). The Kumeyaay (Diegueno)
people had a word for beaver epín (Wares 1968).
Surprisingly few contemporary studies have been conducted with the primary
goal of determining the historical geographic range of a particular species (Schwartz et al.
2007). As with the recent discovery of physical evidence of beaver in the Sierra Nevada
(James and Lanman 2012), we located veriable records extending the known historic
range of beaver to the North Coast, the San Francisco Bay Area, and a coastal watershed
in southern California. These records include museum specimens collected from Sespe
Creek in Ventura County in 1906 and from Saratoga Creek in Santa Clara County in 1855,
both collected by highly reputable zoologists. Additional physical evidence in the form of
zooarchaeological specimens was located near coastal Randall Creek, south of the Mattole
River in Humboldt County, and on Temescal and Alameda creeks, two San Francisco Bay
tributaries in northern and southern Alameda County, respectively.
In four of the ve study regions, we also found many documented records indicating
that beaver were native historically. In contrast, only two reliable historical observer records
were located in San Diego County. Similarly, many geographic place names including the
word “beaver” were found but only one, Beaver Hollow Creek, located on the Sweetwater
River watershed, was located in San Diego County. Cox et al. (2002) reported that faunal
place names have high delity to their historical ranges and may be important indicators of
their historical distribution. The relative lack of toponomastic references to beaver in San
Diego County could relate to low species density, or the near extirpation of beaver prior
to American colonization. Using the USGS GNIS to search for Spanish place names for
“beaver” in coastal California using the contemporary Spanish “castor” or early colonial
Spanish “nutria” (Garces and Coues 1900, Bolton and Font 1930, Bolton and Palou 1930)
words for beaver yielded no references. We note that there is only a single beaver place
name in the Central Valley of California, “Castoria”, which is the historical name for La
Framboise’s 1832 “French Camp” in the San Joaquin Valley (Gudde and Bright 2004). This
near absence of toponomastic beaver references in Central Valley watersheds occurs despite
the fact that beaver have always been recognized as both native and numerous there. Aybes
and Yalden (1995) posited that faunal place names are more common for charismatic species
and noted that there are 200 places in Britain containing “wolf” but only 20 for “beaver.”
Although not denitive evidence, we did nd Indian words for beaver in two
separate San Diego County tribes. In addition, the fact that beaver translocated in the 1940s
still thrive on the San Mateo Creek and Santa Margarita River coastal watersheds suggest
that habitat is quite suitable for beaver in San Diego County. In a documented record even
farther south, Eugene Duot de Mofras, the 19th century naturalist and explorer, described
Baja California’s mammalian fauna in 1841 as, “The wildcat, bear, coyote, maneless
Fall 2013
American lion, wild goat, deer, polecat, ground squirrel, beaver, and fresh-water otter are
the principal quadrupeds of Old [Baja] California” (Wilbur and De Mofras 1937:154).
However, de Mofras’ attribution of beaver and river otter to the Baja Peninsula may have
been in reference to the Colorado River delta.
Evidence of habitat suitability for beaver in California’s coastal watersheds
includes the ongoing survival of the species in coastal watersheds since state-sponsored
translocations 70–80 years ago. The 1923–1950 CDFG translocations to three quarters of
California’s 58 counties resulted in increases in the state’s beaver population from 1,300 in
1942 (Tappe 1942) to 20,000 in 1950 (Anonymous 1950). Counties with coastal and Bay
fiGure 4.—Updated historical range map and current distribution of Castor canadensis in California.
The current distribution was derived by combining ranges from CDFG (2005) and Asarian (2013) and
conversion to 5th-eld hydrologic units (watersheds) — except along the Mexican border where original
CDFG polygons were retained — and removing Noyo River population in Mendocino County shown in
the CDFG (2005) map, which has been extirpated; September 2013.
Area watersheds that received these beaver translocations included (north to south) Del
Norte, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Mendocino, Marin, Napa, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo,
Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles,
Riverside, Orange and San Diego (Hensley 1946, Lynn and Glading 1949). Maps (CDFG
2005, Asarian 2013) of current beaver populations show that descendants of the translocated
beavers or of undiscovered relict beaver populations continue to thrive in most of these
coastal and Bay Area counties (Figure 4).
Although we found several important archaeological sites with subfossil beaver
remains, the zooarchaeological record for beaver in California was relatively sparse. It is
possible that beaver are not common in Indian middens because it was difcult to hunt the
aquatic mammal. Although Indians hunted beaver from east to west across North America,
beaver still thrived until the Indians were availed of steel traps from the American, Russian
and European fur traders. Shimkin (1947: 268) wrote: “Originally, he [the beaver] could not
be killed off at will, but the introduction of steel traps and tough axes made his defense of
water, mud house, and ice quite vain.” Bettinger (2010) noted that, “Although the beaver was
fairly common all over western North America, it was not a key Native American resource
(at least not west of the Mississippi) until historic times. The data show that beaver do not
appear much in the archaeological records as a major element in the fauna. It begins to occur
with increasing frequency in historic times undoubtedly as the result of western technology,
most notably axes and Newhouse style beaver traps.” The following report supports the
idea that beaver were not a major food source although they were considered valuable to
the Yuki tribe of the Middle Fork Eel river in Mendocino County. Anthropologist George
Foster (1944:6) wrote, “A rich man owned hides of beaver, otter, mink, panther, bear and
occasionally elk.” Foster also included beaver in his list of animals not killed or eaten by
the Yuki, suggesting that they were either difcult to catch, rare, or obtained only by trade.
The nearby Huchnom tribe, who lived upstream of the Middle Fork Eel River along the
mainstem Eel River and its tributaries, did consume beaver (Foster 1944:Appendix I): “netted
in water, shot with bow; good eating; skin saved for quivers,” although it is not clear if
the aquatic mammal was a major food item. Difculty hunting beaver would have ceased
once maritime fur traders provided iron traps and guns to coastal tribes. The maritime fur
trade stripped California’s coast and the San Francisco Bay Area of fur-bearing mammals
for four decades prior to the arrival of the rst overland fur brigades led by Jedediah Smith
in 1828 and John Work, Ewing Young and Michel Laframboise in 1832–1833. Therefore,
the short interval between the arrival of the white man and the decimation of California’s
Indians would have left little time for beaver bones to be accumulated in Indian villages.
Why were documented observational records of coastal beaver difcult to nd?
As noted above, there was a maritime “California Fur Rush” that began 40 years before the
Hudson’s Bay Company and its meticulous diarists reached coastal California (Wikipedia
Contributors 2013). Along with the Mission padres, ships from New England and Russia
solicited the coastal Indians for furs, including beaver as well as otter, perhaps as early as the
arrival of the rst Boston ship to the West Coast in 1787 (Bolton and Font 1930, Nunis 1968b,
Thompson 1896). Over a year before Jedediah Smith reached the mouth of the Klamath
River in 1828, Peter Skene Ogden reported that his trappers encountered Indians four days
from there who had “various trading articles from the American ships” (Ogden and Elliot
1910:215). While the furs lasted, the employment of Native Americans to obtain pelts was
a continent-wide phenomenon (Dolin 2010). The Pilgrims began trading for beaver in 1621
and “The Bible and the Beaver were the two mainstays of the Plymouth Colony in its early
Fall 2013
years” (Dolin 2010:xiv). Just as the early colonies on the eastern seaboard employed the
Indians in the rapid eradication of beaver, the maritime fur traders and European populations
of California’s earliest settlements likely provided the native population with the tools and
the motive to hunt beaver to near extirpation on the West Coast. Thus, a largely unrecorded
beaver hunt scoured California’s coastal watersheds well before the rst American and
British overland fur hunters arrived with diaries in hand. It does not take long to exhaust a
region of its furs. For example, sea otter and other fur bearing mammals were so depleted
along the California’s coast by 1841 that the Russian American Fur Company abandoned
and sold Fort Ross just 30 years after it had been established (Thompson 1896).
Because the Spanish and Russian early settlements were limited to a relatively
thin strip along California’s coast and shipborne fur seekers could only trade with coastal
Indians, beaver populations sufciently inland from the coast were relatively unscathed
until the American and Hudson’s Bay Company overland fur brigades arrived. The widely
travelled explorer Captain Thomas Farnham wrote in 1840 that beaver were very numerous
in the Delta’s “hundreds of small rushcovered islands” and that, “There is probably no spot
of equal extent in the whole continent of North America which contains so many of these
muchsought animals (Farnham 1857:383).” It seems probable that these superabundant
inland beaver could have colonized coastal watersheds historically.
Although we could not demonstrate a uniform and homogeneous distribution of
beaver throughout all of California’s coastal watersheds, there is no reason to believe they
would not have been able to occupy any suitable habitat. Traversing between watersheds is
not difcult for beaver, since two- to three-year-old beavers may naturally disperse over 30
km by land or 50 km by stream (Muller-Schwarze and Sun 2003). This has been recently
demonstrated in coastal northern California by the apparent overland recolonization of
beavers from the Sonoma Creek watershed into the Russian River basin (Santa Rosa Creek)
in 2011 and from the Outlet Creek watershed to the South Fork Eel River sub-basin in 2012
(Asarian 2013). It is also likely that beaver in California have, or will, use saltwater, i.e.,
San Francisco Bay and the Pacic Ocean, to move from one coastal stream to another, since
beaver are well known to travel along coastlines and cross saltwater to colonize new territory
such as islands off Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington (Anderson et al. 2009), or
in Norway (Halley et al. 2013). This hypothesis is supported by recent reports of beaver
constructing dams and lodges in oligohaline tidal marsh in the Skagit River delta of Puget
Sound, and at higher densities than beaver in uvial systems (Hood 2012).
While a great deal of historical information is presently digitized and our review
of that material was exhaustive, additional information might be obtained with further
research. More historical records of beavers may be located in California and Nevada state
archives, college or university special collections, newly digitized historical newspapers, as
well as Hudson Bay Company archives in Canada and the National Academy of Sciences
in St. Petersburg, Russia. Naturalist collectors from various European countries visited
California in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Beidleman 2006), but we did not search for
North American beaver specimens in foreign museum collections. Searching archaeological
specimens collected from sites associated with historical accounts and grossly catalogued as
“small mammal” could yield additional physical evidence. Also, ground-penetrating radar
(Kramer 2012) and radiocarbon dating of buried ancient beaver dams exposed by eroding,
incised streams (James and Lanman 2012) are novel approaches to nding physical evidence
of historic beaver yet to be employed in coastal watersheds. Additional research analyzing
undigitized zooarchaeological records in California could provide additional evidence.
Using modern data acquisition and investigative techniques, we have extracted and
synthesized multiple lines of evidence (physical, ethnographic, historical, as well as habitat
suitability) indicating that beaver were historically widely distributed from extreme northern
to southern coastal California, probably as far south as San Diego County. Deciphering
the historical ecology of California is particularly challenging given that the State’s rst
museum, the CAS, was not founded until 1853. The only California museum with a 19th
century zoology collection, it was destroyed (except for a single cartful of specimens) in
the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and re (Lanman et al. 2012).
Grinnell et al. (1937) and Tappe’s (1942) research was initiated almost 100 years
after the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1843 stopped sending fur brigades to California (Nunis
1968a:169) and the Russians abandoned Fort Ross for lack of furs in 1841 (Thompson
1896). Before statewide translocations of beaver from the 1920s to 1950s, California beaver
were nearly extinct except for their last refuges, the great marshes of the Central Valley’s
Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the Colorado River in southeastern California, and
the Pit River in northeastern California. These factors likely limited the abilities of Grinnell
et al. (1937) and Tappe (1942) to accurately reconstruct the historical distribution of beaver.
In addition, it is not clear whether Grinnell was trying to determine the historical range of
beaver, or simply trying to establish the current range of beaver in the early 20th century,
since he relied heavily on local MVZ records plus observations from trappers and rangers
mainly within the decade prior to his 1937 publication, Fur-bearing Mammals of California.
Consistent with our ndings, recent investigations signicantly extended the historical
ranges established by Grinnell et al. (1937) for other mammals in California, such as the
ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) (Orloff 1988) and gray wolf (Canis lupus) (Schmidt 1991).
Neither Grinnell et al. (1937) nor Tappe (1942) explored coastal watersheds looking
for evidence of beaver, even when presented with physical evidence that beaver were present
in these systems (e.g., Sespe Creek). Tappe (1942) limited his eld surveys to areas where
beaver were known to exist. Most beaver observation points in Tappe’s (1942) range map
are based on direct personal observation or observations of his living colleagues. Thus
Tappe’s (1942) range map is perhaps more accurately described as a map of the remnant
strongholds of California beaver in the early 20th century, after more than 100 years of
unregulated commercial trapping and conversion to agriculture of alluvial valley bottoms
where prime beaver habitat was located.
Considering the role of beavers as allogenic ecosystem engineers (Jones et al. 1994),
establishing the aquatic mammal as native to California’s coastal and San Francisco Bay
watersheds may be of particular importance. Studies conducted and reviewed by Pollock
et al. (2003, 2007) in semi-arid Western habitats, have found that re-introduction of beaver
can rapidly aggrade stream sediments, elevating incised channels and reconnecting them to
their oodplains, ultimately converting formerly incised xeric valleys into gently sloping
ones with more abundant riparian vegetation.
There has been a tendency to underestimate the inuence of beaver on ecosystems
(Pollock et al. 1994). The presence of beaver has been shown to increase bird, sh,
invertebrate, amphibian and mammalian abundance and diversity (Naiman et al. 1988, Rosell
et al. 2005). As an integral part of the ecosystem of historic California, beaver may have
benetted many threatened species. Colonization of southern California streams by beaver is
associated with increased riparian habitat, especially dense shrubby willow, which is critical
habitat for federally endangered southwestern willow ycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus)
(Finch and Stoleson 2000) and least Bell’s vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus) (Muller-Schwarze
Fall 2013
and Sun 2000) populations. There is evidence that beaver dams provide important refugia
for endangered California red-legged frogs (Rana draytonii) (Alvarez et al. 2013) and
western pond turtles (Actinemys marmorata) (Alvarez et al. 2007, Lovich 2012). Similarly,
beaver ponds and bank burrows appear to provide refugia for endangered tidewater goby
(Eucyclogobius newberryi) (USFWS 2005). In a historical ecology study of the San Gabriel
River in southern California, it was estimated that since 1870, 86% of historical wetlands
have been lost especially in the lower oodplain (Stein et al. 2010). In contrast, in the tidal
Copper River delta beaver activity has been shown to increase freshwater surface area and
to prevent seasonal drying of the oodplain (Cooper 2007). Allowing beaver to recolonize
their historic range could reverse the ongoing loss of wetland habitat in California’s coastal
Documenting that beaver were historically extant in California’s coastal streams
may have important implications for declining salmonid populations. Pollock et al. (2003)
reviewed reports of beaver “perennializing” formerly seasonal streams, and Tappe (1942)
noted summer ows in several streams in northern California increased after beaver
colonized upstream reaches. Gallagher et al. (2012) reported on limiting factors for coho
salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) populations in coastal northern California streams and
concluded that winter habitat was critically important, recommending adding substantial
amounts of large wood to increase pool habitats, improve stream shelter in high winter
ows, and reconnect the stream to oodplain habitats. Beaver impoundments also increase
winter habitat, and whereas large woody debris may be associated with coho salmon smolt
production (SPP) of 6-15 individuals, SPP per beaver dam ranges from 527 to 1,174 sh,
indicating that promotion of beaver populations may have an 80-fold more positive impact
(Pollock et al. 2004). Salmon from Alaska to Oregon have clearly evolved in sympatry
with beaver and these anadromous sh ascend coastal streams with beaver dams, the latter
often overtopped or breached by high winter ows. Coho salmon can jump dams as high
as 2 meters (Bryant 1984, Powers and Orsborn 1986). Gard (1961) showed that rainbow
trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) can also cross beaver dams and in both directions, with some
accounts of trout crossing a series of 14 dams (Pollock et al. 2003). Hood (2012) reported
that beaver dams tripled juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytsha) survival in
brackish tidal marshes in the Skagit River delta of Puget Sound. Today California’s coastal
beaver are widely regarded as the non-native survivors of twentieth century translocations,
and when they cause ooding problems or fell trees, depredation permits are often provided.
Understanding beaver as native to coastal ecosystems may impact this decision-making.
Based on the results of our study, coupled with the recent evidence of historic beaver
in the Sierra Nevada (James and Lanman 2012, Lanman et al. 2012), and the long-established
nativity of beaver to the Central Valley, the Colorado River and California’s northern rivers
(Tappe 1942, Grinnell et al. 1937), we conclude that the historic range of beaver included
most of California, except the streamless portions of the southern deserts (Figure 4). We
consider the historic presence of beaver in the perennial streams in California’s deserts (e.g.,
the Mojave River) unveried, but highly probable, given their current presence in these
systems (Lovich 2012) and the historic and current presence of beaver in similar desert
streams in Arizona (Allen 1895).
We thank T. Henry, N. A. Walker, and P. Munro for their ethnolinguistic expertise
and assistance documenting words for beaver in coastal Chumash, southern Pomo, Mojave,
and other Indian languages, J. Broughton for his indispensible help with dates of beaver
remains in the Emeryville Shellmound, G. Farris and J. Honton for their assistance nding
records of beaver in western Sonoma County, K. Lightfoot for his assistance understanding
the Fort Ross colony’s outlying farm locations, S. Watrous for his translation of Khlebnikov’s
memoranda, J. Kenealy of the San Diego History Center for her invaluable assistance helping
us document beaver records, R. Bettinger for his review of utilization of beaver by Native
Americans in the Southwest, M. Vestuto for uncovering Harrington’s discussion of nutria
meaning beaver, C. Conroy of the MVZ for his assistance locating digitized correspondence
between Joseph Grinnell and John Hornung from 1916 — which solved the 100-year-old
provenance question of the Sespe Creek beaver skull — and E. Coan who transcribed
the notes of James Graham Cooper that contained important details on where he hunted
during his three month visit to Santa Clara County in 1855. M. Selverston of Sonoma State
University and W. Hildebrandt, A. Whitaker and J. Meyer of Far Western provided expert
help with zooarchaeological records. Lastly, we express appreciation to L. Hulette and J.
Howard of The Nature Conservancy for their support.
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Full-text available
The Agdenes peninsula, Sør-Trøndelag, Norway, 1060km2, is a heavily dissected mountainous landscape with numerous small watersheds, of mainly steep gradient, flowing separately into the sea or to fjords. Suitable habitat for permanent beaver occupation occurs mainly as isolated patches within these watersheds. Eurasian beavers were directly reintroduced to the area in 1926 and 1928. The last known individual of this population died in 1961. In 1968-69 2 pairs and a young animal were reintroduced on the Ingdalselva watershed. The current population is descended from these animals, and probably from the later 1990s by immigrants from the adjacent Orkla river system. In 2010-11 the area was surveyed and 24 beaver family group home ranges located, 20 of which were currently active and 4 abandoned; the population size was estimated at about 80 individuals within family territories plus in any year a number of dispersing individuals. Eighteen of the active territories were located on just four watersheds, Ingdalselva and three immediately adjacent to it. The remaining two territories were isolated on different watersheds distant from any other known group, requiring multiple crossings between watersheds and/or considerable movements through salt water to reach from them. Signs of vagrant individuals were found widely, including on a number of watersheds not occupied by any family group, though containing suitable habitat for permanent colonisation. Known data on the date of establishment of each family group is given, and the pattern of recolonisation to date discussed. An isolated population of beavers on a section of the Orkla river system, first noted in 1933, has been attributed to spread from the first study area reintroductions. However, there are grounds to suspect that this population may have had a different origin. Genetic studies would be useful to elucidate this point.
"This book chronicles the fascinating story of the enthusiastic, stalwart, and talented naturalists who were drawn to California's spectacular natural bounty over the decades from 1786, when the La Pérouse Expedition arrived at Monterey, to the Death Valley expedition in 1890-91, the proclaimed "end" of the American frontier. Richard G. Beidleman's engaging and marvelously detailed narrative describes these botanists, zoologists, geologists, paleontologists, astronomers, and ethnologists as they camped under stars and faced blizzards, made discoveries and amassed collections, kept journals and lost valuables, sketched flowers and landscapes, recorded comets and native languages. He weaves together the stories of their lives, their demanding fieldwork, their contributions to science, and their exciting adventures against the backdrop of California and world history. California's Frontier Naturalists covers all the major expeditions to California as well as individual and institutional explorations, introducing naturalists who accompanied boundary surveys, joined federal railroad parties, traveled with river topographical expeditions, accompanied troops involved with the Mexican War, and made up California's own geological survey. Among these early naturalists are famous names-David Douglas, Thomas Nuttall, John Charles Fremont, William Brewer-as well as those who are less well-known, including Paolo Botta, Richard Hinds, and Sara Lemmon."
How has California's landscape changed? What did now-familiar places look like during prior centuries? What can the past teach us about designing future landscapes? The Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas explores these questions by taking readers on a dazzling visual tour of Napa Valley from the early 1800s onward-a forgotten land of brilliant wildflower fields, lush wetlands, and grand oak savannas. Robin Grossinger weaves together rarely-seen historical maps, travelers's accounts, photographs, and paintings to reconstruct early Napa Valley and document its physical transformation over the past two centuries. The Atlas provides a fascinating new perspective on this iconic landscape, showing the natural heritage that has enabled the agricultural success of the region today. The innovative research of Grossinger and his historical ecology team allows us to visualize the past in unprecedented detail, improving our understanding of the living landscapes we inhabit and suggesting strategies to increase their health and resilience in the future.
Interactions between organisms are a major determinant of the distribution and abundance of species. Ecology textbooks (e.g., Ricklefs 1984, Krebs 1985, Begon et al. 1990) summarise these important interactions as intra- and interspecific competition for abiotic and biotic resources, predation, parasitism and mutualism. Conspicuously lacking from the list of key processes in most text books is the role that many organisms play in the creation, modification and maintenance of habitats. These activities do not involve direct trophic interactions between species, but they are nevertheless important and common. The ecological literature is rich in examples of habitat modification by organisms, some of which have been extensively studied (e.g. Thayer 1979, Naiman et al. 1988).