MARTINEZ, CA — In any other city , the sighting and subsequent death of a beaver would not make the news. In Martinez, home of the annual Martinez Beaver Festival, it is a different story.
"The beaver is a very high-profile animal in Martinez; it is part of our history," said Heidi Perryman, who founded the volunteer group "Worth A Dam" in 2007 when a family of beavers moved into Alhambra Creek and built a lodge that some feared would cause flooding. The effort to protect the beavers grew into a yearly festival.
When a flow device was installed, it prevented the creek from flooding.
From 2007 until 2016, Perryman watched and documented the lives of the beaver family: a mom and dad who had kids every year for three years, until 2010, when mama beaver died. The distinctive markings on her tail are part of the logo for the nonprofit group, Perryman told Patch.
Papa beaver — Buster Beaver to many — "remarried" to a younger beaver, Perryman said, and fathered a total of 27 beaver children over the years.
The beaver family was living happily ever after — and the festivals were growing larger and larger — until 2016 when the flow device was removed. The beavers scrambled upstream and soon, they were out of sight.
The festivals continued, and in the years since, Perryman said there have been many "drive-bys" of beavers from the Carquinez Strait, which she described as a freeway for beavers.
But none have stuck around.
That is why she was so thrilled when she saw the photo of a beaver posted to Martinez Patch. The photo was taken April 27 by Douglas Pierce, an employee of the Conta Costa County Public Works Department. The beaver was munching on a branch in Alhambra Creek near Main Street.
That was Saturday, Perryman said, and her hopes that another beaver family might be moving in were further heightened by reports of at least two other beaver sightings in the same general area.
That high, she said, was followed by an extreme low when she started receiving emails about a dead beaver, and even a photo showing the critter deceased on the banks of the creek near Escobar Street — right across from a memorial to the Martinez beaver family that consists of tiles decorated by local schoolchildren.
Perryman was in the Sierras when she heard the news but rushed home to see what she could do.
She believes the live beaver in the photo and the one found dead were likely one and the same. The beaver appeared to be a 40-pound male yearling — or teenager — who may have been looking for food, a place to live and maybe even a female beaver to start a family with, she said.
There were no outer signs of trauma to the beaver, she said, so she does not think it was hurt or attacked. Animal Control was notified, Perryman said, in the hopes they will come and retrieve the deceased beaver. She does not have the funding to send the beaver to UC Davis to have a necropsy performed, she said.
In other sad news, the 13th annual Martinez Beaver Festival that was scheduled for June 27 has been canceled because coronavirus-related public health orders prevent large gatherings.
That doesn't mean Perryman is slowing down. She is slated to give an online lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday for Napa County Resource Conservation District's "Wild Napa: A Free Lecture Series," during which she will talk about "Beavers in our Ecosystems." To view the lecture on Zoom, sign up here. Napa RCD is also streaming the lecture on Facebook Live.
There's also a whole chapter devoted to the Martinez beaver family in the book "Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter," by Ben Goldfarb.
"People are having to deal with beavers more and more in urban settings, and we are happy to be the test city," said Perryman, whose beaver updates can be found at Martinezbeavers.org.