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Because I Say So

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The Buckhorn

Copyright (c) 2010
Winters Express
312 Railroad Avenue, Winters, CA 95694
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Ridding nature park of beavers, otters to construct a banal canal-

“I’ve enjoyed your columns about Putah Creek,” wrote one kind reader. “You haven’t written about it lately, so I assume everything turned out okay.”
Sadly, I replied, no, everything did not turn out okay. Despite outcry from the community, the city of Winters and the Solano County Water Agency plan to move ahead with Phase III, albeit with a one-month delay “due to unforeseen delays and consultations with some regulatory agencies,” according to City Manager John Donlevy’s weekly email update.
Pity we can’t toss some elderberry beetles in the wild patch over the next couple weeks. If the beavers were beetles, apparently they’d matter.
Bitter about it all? Oh, very.
Beyond my disgust at flippant destruction of habitat, I’ve observed this entire debacle from the beginning, and in 23 years as the Express editor, I’ve never felt this sour on our city process and our city council. They pat the public’s head here and there, but in the end, they’ve decided what they’re going to do, and they’re not going to let some minor annoyance like the public stand in their way. You know — the same public that elected them.
My observation is that public comment and concern was merely tolerated and then ignored. The moment objections to the habitat destruction began, our city manager launched into “circle the wagons” mode, and we all know from watching good old westerns that wagons are circled to defend the camp against the “enemy,” which, of course, was/is the public.
In all fairness, two council members — Pierre Neu and Woody Fridae — listened respectfully to the public’s concerns. But at the end of the day, it’s three against two. The majority message was clear: There’s a plan in place, and the city is moving forward full speed ahead, no matter what.
Apparently the Phase III plan was issued on stone tablets directly from God, or The Streamkeeper, as he’s called. Any consideration of change is out of the question. I did sit down with The Streamkeeper to hear his angle on the project, and it was quite amusing as he proceeded to fill me in on the history of Putah Creek Nature Park project, given that I either wrote or edited all the stories about it for the Express.
I asked The Streamkeeper “How much would it cost to change the plan and leave that one part intact? How much money would the community have to raise?” His response was a non-sequitur: This is the plan and this is what we’re doing. Period.
Commandment XI: Thou Shalt Not Change Thy Plan.
At a recent city council meeting, I attended as a citizen so I could offer my own concerns, one of which is the labeling of one individual, Rich Marovich (who doesn’t even live in Winters), as “The Streamkeeper.” As I was making the point that the creek in this section belongs to the Winters community, and the city council, as our (alleged) representatives, are the rightful streamkeepers, a staff member walked up to the dais and started chatting with the council members while I was talking. The rudeness of the situation blew me away. They didn’t hear a word I said.
Wonder if they can hear me now?
Besides talking, I’ve also done some listening, in particular to UC Davis wildlife professor Dirk Van Vuren, who recently visited the wild patch with some locals. I asked him his impression of the area. This is what he said:
“This is a very delightful high-quality urban resource. It’s not often you have a high density of humans living next to a riparian stretch of creek. There’s quite a diverse population of wildlife there that we saw just in the span of an hour. It would be nice if Winters could retain it. I was surprised how scenic that area of the creek next to an urban area was. These opportunities are rare in California.”
Rather than ripping it out, Van Vuren recommended enhancing the area and forming an oxbow lake: “Build a weir to allow water to back up and hydrate the channel. The beavers, ducks and turtles will be happy.”
And, he added, “It would be a shame to lose a valuable urban resource for that reason and no other.” What reason was he referring to? The Plan, and the city’s religious adherence to it.
Although The Streamkeeper, city staff and certain council members glibly state that the animals will simply go away and then they’ll come back, Van Vuren (who has actual expertise on the matter) had a different opinion.
Noting that beavers, particularly when they have young kits (as they do at this time of year) are more likely to retreat into their burrows for safety than flee downstream, they will probably be crushed. He noted that beavers are strictly nocturnal. During the day, they stay inside their burrows — which is exactly when the bulldozers will come.
Van Vuren said the birds in the area will fly away when disturbed. The otters too, will likely escape safely. But, “any animal that retreats into a burrow for safety will be killed.” As for whether or not they successfully moved on, “In most cases, no one will know,” he said.
On Monday, I received an email from Thomas Pate, interim general manager for the Solano County Water Agency, that outlines a plan to get the beaver to move safely out of their dens before moving the bulldozers in. He states the plan includes recommendations from Van Vuren himself.
That’s a positive step. At least they’ve stopped consulting fish experts about mammals.
Will the plan to move the beavers work? As Van Vuren said, “No one will know.”
Bottom line, however, is we won’t see beaver or otter in Winters anytime soon. What we will see after the “restoration” is finished is more of what’s there now: A low, flat, boring, man-made creekbed with a gloried gutter running through it. In other words, a canal. Which is what SCWA specializes in, not so ironically.
Yes, our nature park will have its very own banal canal. What it won’t have is actual nature. Because, folks, that’s The Plan.