A family of California beavers killed by Wildlife Services. | All photos courtesy APHIS.

Last year the federal government killed more than 21,000 beavers across the country, including 956 here in California. Why? Because the industrious, bucktoothed rodents can wreak a lot of havoc with their dam building.

“These relentless engineers gnaw down valuable timber, clog culverts, plug irrigation ditches, wash out roads, flood homes and even chew through fiberoptic cables,” notes environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb.

But wildlife advocates, including Goldfarb, argue that the damage is outweighed by the ecological benefits, including the critical habitat beaver building creates for endangered salmon here in California.

Today, EPIC (the Arcata-based Environmental Protection Information Center) and the Western Environmental Law Center announced their intention to sue Wildlife Services, the branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture tasked with controlling problem animals.

“Where beavers thrive, salmon do too,” EPIC Executive Director Tom Wheeler said in a press release. 

This won’t be the first lawsuit targeting Wildlife Services over beaver killing. Earlier this year Goldfarb wrote a piece for High Country News outlining a similar case in Oregon. There, a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups, including the Western Environmental Law Center, sued the agency for violating the Endangered Species Act, which may seem counterintuitive considering how prevalent beavers are. But it wasn’t about the beavers, directly.

“By killing beavers without accounting for the destruction of rodent-built critical habitat, the environmental groups argueWildlife Services risks jeopardizing federally protected fish,” Goldfarb wrote.

Aligning with EPIC, the Western Environmental Law Center is taking that tack again here in California, which makes sense considering the outcome in the Beaver State: According to the Western Environmental Law Center, the threat of litigation prompted Wildlife Services to stop killing beavers in Oregon.

The press release is below.

More California beavers killed by Wildlife Services.

ARCATA, Calif.—Today, wildlife advocates notified federal wildlife-killing program Wildlife Services of their plans to legally challenge the program’s beaver killing in California over its harm to endangered salmon. Wildlife Services, a program under the Department of Agriculture, killed more than 1.3 million non-invasive animals in 2017, including 956 beavers in California. The challenge aims to force the program to reconsider its lethal beaver management to recognize the crucial role beavers play in the health of endangered salmon populations.

A strong body of scientific research shows beavers benefit salmon and steelhead by building better habitat conditions, including creation ponds used by salmon and by increasing stream flow in summer months. Beavers’ role is so important that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) included beaver population restoration as a goal of the recovery plan for the Southern Oregon/Northern California coastal coho salmon. The challenge alleges Wildlife Services failed to consult with NMFS over impacts to endangered salmon from lethal beaver removal, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

“Beavers [are] nature’s engineers,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director at EPIC. “They create ponds and reconnect rivers with floodplains. Where beavers thrive, salmon do too. At a time when we are spending millions of dollars a year to improve salmon habitat, including the construct ‘beaver dam analogues,’ human-made facsimiles of beaver dams designed to help improve stream flow and create more and better salmon habitat, it is absurd that we are spending taxpayer money to kill more beavers.” said Wheeler.

Beyond salmon, beavers benefit other threatened and endangered species, including willow flycatchers, tidewater goby, and California red-legged frogs.

The Environmental Protection Information Center is represented by Pete Frost and Andrew Hawley of the Western Environmental Law Center. Today’s notice letter starts a 60-day clock before EPIC can file its challenge in federal court to compel Wildlife Services to comply with the Endangered Species Act.