American Badger in Sonoma County - State of the Badger 2014

This year’s annual report is divided into Sonoma and Marin Counties, Regional, and Outside California.

Sonoma and Marin Counties:

A small population at Pt. Reyes National Seashore continues to safely survive. Visitors to Pt. Reyes National Seashore, occasionally viewing Summer road crossings of juvenile badgers and/or a rare, appreciated sighting in one of the meadows, provided reports of 3 sightings in 2014. With repeated sightings reported at Pt. Reyes Seashore for the past 6 years, we safely conclude one adult female badger has been breeding, giving birth and raising young in that area. A deceased badger from the Nicasio area in Marin County was reported in Summer months. A deceased badger was also reported near Tomales. A longstanding area in Tomales of several acres with both American Badger and Burrowing Owl may have undergone habitat destruction and modification, with species displacement. New owners of the Tomales property initially invited a visit for education about American Badger and its habitat needs, and the invitation was later rescinded with no further response to communication. Reinvigorating agriculture on this property was a priority. Such a situation always generates concern for the species – when it is not possible to view or communicate about the ability for harmonious coexistence between the species and humans. A reported deceased badger on the roadside in the Tomales area is also a first to our nonprofit.

Two reports of badger activity (burrowing or foraging) were received from southern Marin County and confirmed. This leads to a total of 3 known American Badger activity locations in Marin County, one in South Marin, one in central Marin, and one in West Marin. Two locations are on protected preserve or park properties. Although public access is common on these two properties, access is limited to trails. The other site is in a county park with increasing human, dog and cyclist access, and these increasing impacts may be detrimental to the species sustaining safely in its longstanding habitat.

In Sonoma County, significant threats continue to occur to the small American Badger populations known to be trying to range and survive. Of 4 identified areas in Sonoma County for repeat visits by female badgers, birthing and raising young, on these properties, 3 are significantly threatened. This represents a threat of 75% negative impact to sustaining biodiversity for badgers in Sonoma County. One large coastal property has experienced 8 years of repeated encroachment via outings and human activity. This compared to no encroachment except for a few ranchers who had cows grazing on the large property and were present on-site occasionally. Although a human thought is the badgers can move somewhere else on a large property because they have lots of room, female badgers select birthing and young raising locations in their own way, and an adult female badger will return to a site and re-use her birthing and young raising complex if circumstances are right for her. She will not return if a threat of encroachment, lack of safety or other factors unknown to humans occur, resulting in the female badger’s best decision to abandon a previously selected and used site to give birth and raise her young.

The coastal property mentioned has also experienced significant construction within an existing building envelope. The human thought is this shouldn’t bother the badgers – it’s not out in their habitat area. But, the noise and significant increase in human activity over a sustained period of time are negative impacts when nearby longstanding habitat exists – and badgers are forced into displacement to try and locate other safe burrowing and foraging sites. We hope to be able to report a return of badger activity and sightings on this beautiful property, with less scheduled outings for large numbers of humans and less construction on-site.

The remaining 2 locations in Sonoma County where female badgers have given birth and raised young are also being monitored. One was completely abandoned, related in timing, we feel confident to state, to the property owner – a person who welcomed badgers on her land – deciding to obtain a dog to protect her flock of sheep who were being preyed upon by coyotes. Dogs and badgers are not a good mix. Even with a friendly dog around, a female badger will not remain in an area to give birth and raise young in the presence of a dog. The other location on Paula Lane in West Petaluma, a 105-year-old habitat, where generations of females have maintained year-round activity with a rich prey base of gophers and a nearby water source, was almost completely destroyed in 2012 by property owners who purchased land next to the now protected open space for American Badger. Illegal grading, excessive human and dog encroachment, and night lighting, along with attempted destruction of all habitat on the property by the owners resulted in displacement of a female badger who had been observed to create and maintain her birthing and young raising burrow complex in 2010, 2011 and 2012 just prior to the property sale and the intense habitat destruction by the new owners. An opportunity to expand the open space Preserve via purchase of an additional 4 acres across from the open space land could help rebalance the ecosystem for badgers on Paula Lane, which Paula Lane Action Network will be exploring. This 4 acres is also contiguous habitat, separated from the open space property by a county road about 16 feet in width, and badgers and other wildlife regularly cross back and forth between the properties, utilizing that 4 acres, also as habitat and for foraging. The property owners who attempted to willfully and intensely destroy every inch of habitat on the property adjacent to the protected open space land have also now proposed to subdivide and add additional lots and houses, an act that would destroy the protected land and all habitat, and Paula Lane Action Network is vigorously opposing the owners as they attempt to profit further by destroying the land and area. The owners also attempted to completely obstruct a heavily traversed wildlife corridor by illegal grading and erection of nonclimb fencing, then places horses and multiple structures in the same area frequently traversed by deer, mountain lion, coyotes and multiple other species. Accountability with unblocking of the corridor and third party habitat restoration will also be vigorously pursued by Paula Lane Action Network on this land with contiguous badger habitat to the open space land.

Good news for badgers in Sonoma County is the identification of one new location where an adult female badger has been discovered, with one adult male, and two young badgers born in that area in Spring 2014. A valuable lesson was learned about dogs and badgers in this location. A young dog discovered a juvenile badger, likely about 5 months of age, in its back yard. The dog became very agitated, barking, and the badger tried to escape under a deck that was no more than about 16 inches high, attached to a house, near a swimming pool (where the badger likely smelled water and that is what drew the badger to the area of the house). The dog pursued the young badger and an alarmingly loud skirmish under the deck ensued. The owners were extremely concerned and one of the owners wisely and instinctively pulled a piece of wood from the low deck, and the badger was abel to escape from that side and trot back to the area of a dry creek bed where it had entered the property through a hole in a gate area (which the property owners have since blocked with a piece of wire fencing). One of the greatest lessons, other than knowing drought is impacting all wildlife and many species may be attracted to residential areas where water or some source of nutrition exists in summer months, is that the young dog was barely injured from the skirmish. The fact is the young badger had no interest in fighting and was only put on the defensive, young enough still to also be inexperienced in defense. And the dog was also a young dog, upset, agitated, likely not knowing what to do either. So the skirmish resulted in very little injury to the dog and an unknown level of injury to the badger – but the badger was able to escape and trot back to the dry creek bed, so it was mobile. A way to accommodate wildlife coming into an area that may not be a wise decision for the wildlife is to keep a low lying tray of water or a low lying bucket of water filled in summer months at the edge of one’s property – to help wildlife locate water sources when creeks and other seasonal water sources dry up.

Because the discovery of the adult female badger and at least one adult male badger, with the two young, is in an area of Sonoma County that generally represents a high level of conservation consciousness, the ability for the two adults to survive, as well as reproduce again, is encouraging and is being monitored.

Another encouraging sign for American Badger in Sonoma County in 2014 was the ability for the naturalist of Paula Lane Action Network to connect to other larger conservation organizations, protecting large properties in Sonoma County, with rare, but documented, badger sightings, to continue communication and offer our expertise for identifying and confirming badgers captured on wildlife cameras or to receive reports of possible badger presence these larger organizations receive, and continue documentation of habitat and species in Sonoma County.

At this time, we can confidently assert that more is known about American Badger habitat locations and the species itself in Sonoma County than anywhere else in the United States, except possibly for Wisconsin, the “badger state,” where ecologists and biologists have long been interested in understanding American Badger and allowing the species to sustain in the Midwest.

Comparing coastal habitat areas to inland habitat areas, the small populations in both areas continue to appear in the same locations documented for the past 7 years, with only one sighting in the new area described above.

Three documented badger deaths occurred in 2014: One in Napa County from vehicle strick; one in the Bodega Bay Area; one from Nicasio in Marin County; one in Tomales on the Marin County border.

While we did not receive reports of gunshot killings of badgers in 2014 in West Petaluma, this reality remains unknown, and a report in 2012 of a rancher killing a badger in West Petaluma was received. Concern about this possibility remains high, as myths about the “vicious” badger continue to be believed, and outreach and education about badgers on ranches and farms – and the benefit of their presence – continues to be a primary focus of Paula Lane Action Network’s work.

Regional

Thanks again to other conservation organizations and sharing news of our nonprofit's work, we received reports of a badger sighting in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Mt. Diablo had one reported sighting in the past 3 years. A Summer 2014 sighting of a pair of badgers digging by a roadside in Modoc County, Surprise Valley, in northeastern California was joyfully reported by a long-time conservationist who enjoyed the surprise sighting and observed from a distance.

Outside California

Reports were received of a badger who ran across the road in Utah south of Antimony in July 2014. Sevreal badgers in a longstanding habitat, along with porcupine and other upland species, were reported by a couple from North Washington State who had just purchased the land and had a small home/semi-shack on the property where one of them was living and experiencing frequent sightings as well as a couple of encounters. Our conversations with this couple were very encouraging. They were very pleased to be living among such rich diversity and being able to see badgers and porcupines and we discussed ways to establish boundaries and keep that human distance while allowing the wildlife to remain in their habitat.

Several conservation organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area are supportive of American Badger – and we thank them for providing information to our effort, as we continue to compile and consider documentation of species sightings and identification of habitat and movement areas: Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, Worth a Dam, the Martinez Beavers Protectors, and the excellent resource, sfbaywildlife.info, who continue to provide links for regional information to reach our nonprofit, to continue our research and documentation of habitats in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, Bodega Land Trust, Sonoma Land Trust, Pepperwood Preserve, California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists, Bioconsultant LLC.

Summary for 2014: The small American Badger population as a whole in Sonoma County is significantly threatened by obstruction of wildlife movement areas, drought and lack of water resources and prey in summer months, human encroachment into habitat areas, a lack of understanding of the habitat needs of adult female badgers who require specific habitat areas for giving birth and raising young, and myths of the “dangerous” badger to livestock and people. Humans also misunderstand what is being seen when signs of badger activity are discovered, often mistaking foraged out gopher or vole mounds and holes for burrows of many badgers – in reality, one badger has likely moved through an area, foraged around for prey and moved on. Gardeners are well advised to welcome an American Badger. The badger will naturally manage the gopher population and any holes of foraging or a burrow can be filled in after the badger moves on to another area.

Our effort in 2015 may also focus on a property in West Petaluma between Petaluma and Valley Ford, where a longstanding badger presence exists on an agricultural property –California Tiger Salamander and California Red-Legged Frog are documented to occur on the same property and adjacent property – and these endangered and threatened species often reuse abandoned badger burrows. Such presence represents an important upland habitat ecosystem, anchored by American Badger with a year-round presence on these lands.

This report completed in January 2015. Next annual report to be filed in January 2016.
Paula Lane Action Network
PO Box 2903 | Petaluma, CA  94953 | 707-241-5548
To report a sighting of American Badger or for questions, please contact us at:
707-241-5548 or info@paulalaneactionnetwork.org.

Susan Kirks is the naturalist with American Badger expertise with our organization, dedicating a significant portion of her life to living among badgers, observing badger behavior, and working to educate and help protect American Badger.

The American Badger in Sonoma County - State of the Badger 2013 report can be found here.


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