WTF Fun Fact 13743 – Parachuting Beavers

Nope – it’s not a juvenile joke – there really is a story about parachuting beavers. 76 of them, to be exact.

More than seven decades ago, Idaho found itself with a peculiar problem involving beavers too accustomed to urban life. These beavers, having become a nuisance in the growing residential areas, needed new homes. The solution? Parachute them into the wilderness. Yes, you read that correctly: parachuting beavers.

Elmo Heter: The Man with the Plan

Elmo Heter, an officer with Idaho Fish and Game, faced the challenge of relocating beavers from populated areas like McCall, near Payette Lake, to the remote Chamberlain Basin. His ingenious plan involved some old parachutes left over from World War II and a healthy dose of innovation.

Heter knew that transporting beavers by land was fraught with challenges. Horses and mules tended to get spooked by the critters, and driving them through rugged terrain was costly and complex. So, he looked to the skies for an answer.

Dropping Beavers by Plane

Heter devised a method using surplus military parachutes to air-drop beavers into their new wilderness homes. The first task was creating a safe container for the beavers. Initial attempts with woven willow boxes were scrapped when it became apparent that the beavers might chew their way out mid-flight or cause havoc on the plane.

Thus, Heter designed a wooden box that would open upon impact with the ground. To test this innovative container, he chose a plucky male beaver named Geronimo as his first test pilot. Geronimo endured multiple drops to ensure the safety and efficacy of this method.

The Pioneer Parachuting Beaver

Heter dropped Geronimo repeatedly to test the resilience of the box and the beaver’s tolerance. Remarkably, Geronimo adapted well to his role. After numerous trials, he seemed almost eager to get back into his box for another drop. Heter’s plan was proving viable, and soon, it was time to scale up.

Geronimo’s final test flight included a one-way ticket to the Chamberlain Basin, where he joined three female beavers, establishing a new colony in what would become a thriving ecosystem. This land is now part of the protected Frank Church Wilderness.

The Legacy of the Parachuting Beavers

In total, 76 beavers were air-dropped into the wilderness. All but one survived the journey, and they quickly set about doing what beavers do best: building dams and creating habitats that benefit the entire ecosystem. This area is now part of the largest protected roadless forest in the lower 48 states.

The operation, initially seen as a quirky solution, turned out to be a remarkable success, showing that sometimes unconventional problems require unconventional solutions. The savings in manpower and reduction in beaver mortality proved that sometimes, the sky really is the limit.

Why You Won’t See Parachuting Beavers Today

Despite its success, the days of parachuting beavers have passed. Nowadays, the approach to problematic beavers is more about coexistence and less about relocation. The pioneering days of the 1940s, when men like Elmo Heter looked to parachutes to solve ecological challenges, are long gone. Yet, the descendants of those aerial adventurers likely still live on in the Frank Church Wilderness, a testament to one of the most unusual wildlife management efforts ever undertaken.

So, next time you spot a beaver in Idaho, remember that it might just be the descendant of a brave pioneer who once took an unexpected flight into history.

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Source: “Parachuting beavers into Idaho’s wilderness? Yes, it really happened” — Boise State Public Radio

WTF Fun Fact 13462 – Air Dropped Wolves

It’s a bird; it’s a plane – wait, it’s a helicopyer designed to accommodate air dropped wolves?!

In the vast wilderness of Isle Royale National Park, located on an island in the US Great Lakes, an unusual air-drop operation unfolded. Four Canadian wolves, transported via helicopter from their native Ontario, found themselves in new, unfamiliar territory, their mission as unique as their journey: to tackle the park’s burgeoning moose population and aid the dwindling local wolf count.

A Unique Environmental Challenge

Covering 894 square miles, Isle Royale has been grappling with an ecological imbalance. Historically, the park’s wolf population naturally kept the moose numbers in check. But the wolf count has been dwindling, leading to a surge in the moose population. This growth has put increased pressure on the island’s vegetation, threatening to destabilize the park’s ecosystem.

Adding to the challenge, in the past two decades, the formation of ice bridges – which once connected Isle Royale to the mainland – has become less frequent and less stable due to climate change. These bridges provided a pathway for new wolves to migrate to the island. Their absence left Isle Royale’s two remaining wolves effectively marooned, and prevented fresh wolf blood from bolstering the population.

The Air Dropped Wolves Solution

To rectify the situation, park authorities took an unprecedented step. Four Canadian wolves, adept at hunting moose in cold climates, were trapped in Ontario and transported via helicopter to Isle Royale. It is hoped these new additions, along with two wolves introduced in 2018, will reduce the moose population and replenish the local wolf count. Over the next five years, the National Park Service plans to bring a total of 20 to 30 wolves to the park.

The task was not without its complexities. The chosen wolves had to be neither too young nor too old, with good dental health to ensure their hunting prowess. “You don’t get to choose the wolf you trap. It could be old, young, or injured when captured,” explains John Vucetich, an ecologist leading the Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale project. This project is the longest-running study of any predator-prey system globally.

The Aftermath of Air Dropping Wolves

Once on Isle Royale, the newly-arrived wolves faced a disorienting situation. Accustomed to family packs, they found themselves in unfamiliar territory, with strangers instead of pack-mates. The initial period was likely filled with tension and uncertainty as the wolves adapted to their new surroundings and learned to find food.

But the efforts are not without risks. Relocation can be perilous for these creatures, as seen when a female wolf died last fall due to sedation complications during transport.

The Road Ahead

Despite these challenges, the ongoing project underscores a significant shift in human attitudes towards wolves. Once widely distributed, wolf populations declined significantly due to human activity. Today, attitudes have changed. “Our attitudes have changed enough to decide definitively that we want to live with wolves. But we haven’t decided how to live with wolves,” says Vucetich.

Through initiatives like the Isle Royale wolf reintroduction, we’re taking steps towards that co-existence. It’s a journey that mirrors the wolves’ own: fraught with challenges but driven by a clear, necessary goal.

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Source: “‘We want to live with them’: wolves airdropped into US to tackle moose problem” — The Guardian