KINGS BEACH - Rush Pursley must use a wheelchair due to his failing health. However, this doesn't prevent him from enjoying Lake Tahoe's natural environment, as in recent weeks he was accustomed to wheeling down to Griff Creek near the Highway 28/267 intersection to watch a family of beavers industriously build a dam to alter a section of the creek into a suitable habitat.
"I would sit there, smoke a cigarette and watch the beavers," said Pursley, of Kings Beach. "I really enjoyed it."
However, Pursley became upset when he learned of a recent Placer County wildlife removal operation that entailed the trapping and killing of the beavers at the Kings Beach creek.
"Beavers have been eliminated from Griff Creek," said an impassioned Pursley during a recent telephone interview. "The county is killing them. I am very disturbed about this."
Pursley isn't the only one.
An impromptu rally was organized on the banks of Griff Creek on Oct. 8, as residents joined wildlife advocates, biologists and a preschool class to express dissatisfaction with the county's policy toward the beavers.
"The killing of beavers like this is tragic," said Cheryl Millham, executive director of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, during the rally.
Peter Kraatz, deputy director of the Placer County Department of Public Works, attended the rally and explained the county's position.
"There are two main reasons (we removed the beavers)," he said. "One, the potential flood risk due to the beavers damming up the culverts. If the water doesn't flow through the culverts the water could overflow onto (Highway 28) causing a hazardous situation.
"The second reason is the beavers cutting down trees has caused damage to vehicles parked in the (North Tahoe Fire Protection District station in Kings Beach)."
Kraatz confirmed the beavers were trapped earlier in the week and killed instantly in the trapping mechanism, although we were not privy to details regarding the trapping, including number of beavers killed and methods used to kill them.
The county obtained a depredation permit from the California Department of Fish and Game; it then subcontracted a licensed U.S. Department of Agriculture trapper to do the actual removal, said Sara Holm, spokeswoman for Fish and Game.
"The depredation permit is a kill permit - we do not relocate animals for many reasons," she said.
The California Conservation Corps assisted in removing the dam from the creek, according to Jimmy Camp, CCC public information officer.
Representatives from the USDA could not be reached for comment for this story.
Millham said other solutions exist that do not involve eradicating the beavers.
"Municipalities all over the United States have learned to peacefully co-exist with these animals," she said.
Some solutions include installing water-control devices such as pipe and fence-based structures that allow water to flow through the dam at certain points, Millham said.
She further advocated the use of protective fencing to keep the beavers away from the culverts and prevent flood potential.
Kraatz expressed doubt that a sufficient amount of resources could be allocated to incorporate Millham's proposed measures, but vowed to consider them, setting up a meeting with Millham during the rally.
"I am very open to those solutions," Kraatz said. "I am open to applying them here."
Kraatz said measures to protect private property and living trees also would need to be considered. He further expressed preference for measures that would keep beavers from coming back, but conceded the area is a perfect habitat for beavers.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency professed support for the county regarding the beaver removal operation.
"We understand the need to protect public health and safety and support the county in that effort," said Jeff Cowen, TRPA spokesman. "We defer to the appropriate state wildlife or fish and game agency regarding wildlife control, and removing beavers is not uncommon at Lake Tahoe."
Nevertheless, TRPA said the county could have "easily" removed the beaver dam in a more conscientious manner, thus preventing sediment naturally filtered by the dam from reaching Lake Tahoe.⵰