Another Cost of Development

     I watched a beaver cruise around his pond like a little torpedo, paws barely moving, big flat tail trailing behind. The little guy glided under a downed tree and then rose again, apparently powered by merely pointing his nose. He tooled around his perimeter, turned gracefully like an Olympic swimmer and cruised back to his dam.
     I’m glad people leave beavers alone Vermont, instead of beating them to death like they do in California.
     Everything in this column is true.
     A neighbor I’ll call John didn’t like the place on his land where the beaver began building his dam, so he trapped it and moved it a little ways upstream. Now there’s a big old beaver swimming hole there, and a half-acre swamp in the woods behind the beaver dam. John is willing to live with the swamp. Other farmers nearby live with other beavers and their dams.
     When I was a newspaper editor in California, some people found a pair of beavers near the San Diego-Riverside County line. They trapped them and moved them to a nearby lake, and, unfortunately, told the California Department of Fish and Game what they had done.
     The Department of Fish and Game beat the beavers to death with baseball bats. They did this because the beavers were “exotic” animals, having been moved, a few miles, to the lake.
     Fish and Game never told the public what it did. It said it had moved the beavers to “an undisclosed location” – just like Dick Cheney – for the beavers’ “protection.”
     I found out what happened from another guy I’ll call John. He has degrees in biology and archaeology and makes a living doing biological and archaeological surveys for developers. The California Environmental Quality Act requires such reports before developers can build in many areas.
     One night, over a few beers, John told me he had seen a beaver in a stream near the county line. He left it out of his environmental report. Had he listed it, he assured me, the developers would have poisoned it, shot it, or killed it somehow.
     I mentioned the beavers that had been moved to the undisclosed location, and John said, “They beat them to death with baseball bats.”
     He was angry when he said it.
     I did not report this story. John had to work with Fish & Game, and with developers, for a living. He told me what Fish & Game had done to the beavers in confidence. Had I asked Fish & Game about it, they would have denied it, and if I told them where I got my information, it would have ruined John’s relationship with them forever. So I never wrote about it – and I never wrote about the beaver that John found, and ignored, either.
     The only way John could protect the beaver was to ignore the law. Had he followed the law, he might as well have beat the beaver to death himself.
     That’s one of the costs of development in California.
     We don’t have much development in Vermont. We don’t have much of an economy either. The annual state budget reached $1 billion for the first time four years ago. California’s annual budget deficit this year is 16 times that.
     We do have some development here, though. A developer has laid out about 40 lots for new homes a few hills over from where the beaver lives. A lot of people here think that 40-home development is too big. The developer has bladed plenty of trees, but he left the woods all around the homes he’s built. He hasn’t built too many of them yet because the market crashed.
     There’s no stream there, so he won’t run into any beavers. Even if there were beavers there, I don’t think a developer in Vermont would beat them to death with baseball bats.
(The day after I wrote this column in Vermont, a dozen environmental groups in Southern California sued the federal government for violating environmental laws to push a toll road through Orange County. This lawsuit involves the same watershed where my friend John saw the beaver.)

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