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Beaver relocation program aims to revitalize waterways, woodlands

CDFW program would reintroduce beavers to struggling waterways
CDFW program would reintroduce beavers to struggling waterways 04:12

PLUMAS COUNTY – Considered a nuisance for years, state officials are looking at beavers as a tool to fight wildfires and repair waterways.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has launched a new program that will introduce beavers to habitats that are struggling to retain water and therefore becoming a fire risk.

Ben Cunningham is the Chairperson of the Maidu Summit Consortium up in Plumas County.

He showed KPIX through Tasmam Koyom, the valley where California Fish and Wildlife plans to relocate beavers as a part of its new pilot program to revitalize certain waterways and woodlands.

"We're doing more over on that side which will spread water over there. It doesn't run as much as this." said Cunningham.

Tasmam Koyom is a very special and historical place for the Mountain Maidu people. It was where they called home for generations until it was taken over by settlers.

For years after, the valley was owned by a variety of power companies, including PG&E.

The Maidu Summit Consortium fought for decades to get the land back and in 2019 they finally won, reclaiming 2,325 acres of the valley as their own. Just two years later, the Dixie Fire swept through, ravaging most of the area.

"So thick some places, you can't hardly walk through it. That's why it burned so much," said Cunningham.

Another reason Cunningham believes it burned so much is because of the degradation of Yellow Creek, the waterway that runs through the center of the valley.

"It just keeps moving the dirt out," said Cunningham.

The creek, which was once a wide meandering body of water is now a much narrower, fast moving waterway.

Cunningham said because of that, much of the valley dried out, creating even more of a fire risk.

That's why ever since the Maidu people reclaimed the valley, they've been trying to get beaver back on the land.

Lorena Gorbet with the Maidu Summit Consortium has been the one leading the charge.

"That's one way to re-water the meadow naturally, you know," Gorbet told KPIX.

For a long time, Fish and Wildlife did not have any program set up to relocate beavers in the state. That all changed this year.

"We want to make sure that there are plenty of options to allow beavers to live a life in the wild. While at the same time we're just kind of utilizing the natural ecosystem benefits of beaver dams," said Ken Paglia with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The department launched a pilot program that will relocate a certain number of beavers to two locations across the state.

One of those will be Tasmam Koyom. Cunningham said it's something the Maidu people can't wait to get started. They are expecting to get the beavers some time this fall.

When that day comes, he and others like Shannon Williams, say they'll finally start to feel like the land is really theirs again.

"It's kind of like a full circle homecoming. For us and the beaver," said Williams, who is also with the Maidu Summit Consortium.

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