You won’t find Beaver Creek in Sonoma County. Likewise, there is no beaver pond, beaver dam or Beaverton pond. No Beaver Glade or Beaver Falls either.
Walk north to the Mendocino Coast and you’ll find Beaver Point jutting out into the ocean. In Humboldt, although beavers prefer well-watered valleys, there is Beaver Ridge and Beaver Butte. Keep going and you will eventually reach Oregon, whose nickname is “The Beaver State”.
Here in Sonoma, there is a glaring beaver-shaped gap in our place names. Until recently, this would not have surprised most biologists. Around 1940, two zoological studies concluded that beavers were not native to the Bay Area. Consequently, few regulations protected them. In fact, beavers have often been considered “pests” because their dams and burrow construction can destroy trees, undermine dikes and cause flooding.
A 2013 study refuted the hypothesis that beavers are not native and “don’t belong” here. Research by Kate Lundquist and Brock Dolman of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, in collaboration with partners from other organizations, has uncovered strong historical and physical evidence for the presence of beavers in the early 19th century and before. . In fact, the first California “rush” was not the gold rush, but a “fur rush”.
In 1809, a Russian-American Company ship visited Bodega Bay and returned to Sitka, the capital of Russian America, with beaver pelts. Three years later, “the abundance of seals, otters and beavers” led to the founding of Fort Ross. In the 1830s, a Hudson’s Bay Company scout called the area north of Bodega “rich in beavers.” Around the same time, Mariano Vallejo described the Laguna de Santa Rosa, which stretches from Cotati to Sevastopol and beyond, as “great tular lakes teaming up with the beaver.” George Simpson, administrator of the Hudson’s Bay Company, reported a beaver just half a mile from the Sonoma Mission in 1842.
The impression that beavers were common in Sonoma County is supported by the fact that all of our native languages - Coast Miwok, Wappo, and Pomo – have words for beaver.
But after 1850, the beaver archives became scarce. It seems that locally they have been hunted to extinction. It happened so early and so quickly in our history that beavers were literally “wiped off the map”. By the turn of the 20th century, the beavers of Sonoma had not only been trapped out of existence, but had passed away within living memory.
Surprisingly, this statement is no longer true. In the 1990s, beavers arrived in Sonoma Creek, recolonizing part of their former territory. From there, they expanded their population into the Santa Rosa Stream watershed. While beavers can cause damage, they can also provide benefits, especially during times of drought and climate change. Beaver dams slow down and retain runoff from winter storms, which helps replenish groundwater; pick up soil that might otherwise erode; and create habitat for many other creatures.
As “ecosystem engineers,” beavers once helped maintain vast wetlands here and elsewhere in California. Today, a century after their temporary disappearance, water has become more precious than fur. In many places, they are making a comeback as innovative solutions are designed to minimize the damage that “busy beavers” could cause.
There is no Beaver Creek in Sonoma County, but given their history, it looks like there should be. Maybe one day there will be.