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 13496 – Parachuting Beavers

Conservation strategies can take on a wide variety of shapes and forms – sometimes they’re scientific breakthroughs or well-planned reintroduction programs; and other times, they are, well, parachuting beavers.

Yes, you read that right.

During the 1950s, in one of the most peculiar conservation efforts, beavers in Idaho were parachuted from planes to aid in repopulation efforts. Here’s the fascinating story.

The Problem: Beaver Overpopulation

Post World War II, Idaho faced a conundrum. With the growth of human settlements and the rise in agriculture, the state found that some regions had an overpopulation of beavers.

These industrious animals, known for their dam-building abilities, often clashed with human development. Their dams would flood roads and farmland, creating challenges for the human inhabitants of the area.

At the same time, other remote regions of Idaho suffered from a lack of beavers.

Historically, beavers played a pivotal role in these ecosystems, creating wetlands that benefited various forms of wildlife. Without them, these ecosystems began to degrade.

The Solution: Aerial Beaver Relocation

To address this imbalance, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) devised a novel solution. Why not relocate the beavers to the regions where they were needed?

But there was a hitch. Many of these areas were so remote that traditional methods of transportation were unfeasible.

Enter Geronimo, the beaver that would pave the way for a unique conservation strategy. As a test subject, Geronimo took several flights, gently floating down via parachute to ensure the safety of the process. After repeated tests (and presumed beaver approval), the IDFG decided to move forward with their parachuting beaver operation.

Operation Beaver Drop: Parachuting Beavers into Idaho

The process was relatively straightforward, albeit unorthodox. Beavers were trapped in overpopulated areas, placed inside protective boxes, and attached to parachutes. An airplane would then fly over the designated release area, and these furry engineers would descend to their new homes.

Between 1948 and 1950, this project saw the successful relocation of over 70 beavers. The majority of them adapted quickly to their new environments, immediately setting to work building dams and establishing new colonies.

The parachuting beaver strategy, despite its odd nature, was deemed a significant success. The relocated beavers transformed the landscapes, aiding in the creation of wetlands and benefiting countless other species in the process. Birds, fish, and mammals found better habitats thanks to the beaver’s natural dam-building tendencies.

Other states didn’t adopt the parachuting strategy (due in part to the development of better transportation methods and roads). But it showcased the lengths to which conservationists were willing to go to ensure the survival and prosperity of a species.

Revisiting the Tale of Parachuting Beavers

For many years, the tale of Idaho’s parachuting beavers was considered an exaggerated myth of the West. That was until 2015, when a film from the IDFG archives was rediscovered. This film, titled “Fur for the Future,” documented the entire process, turning local legend into verifiable history.

Suddenly, a story that sounded like a tall tale had evidence to back it up, and it captured the imagination of people worldwide.

Check it out:

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Source: “Parachuting Beavers Were A Surprisingly Successful Conservation Strategy In The 1950s” — IFL Science

WTF Fun Fact 13470 – An Underwater Concert

Would you attend an underwater concert off the Florida coast? It certainly sounds unique.

The Florida Keys hosts an annual Underwater Music Festival. Hundreds of divers and snorkelers dive into the ocean to listen to an underwater concert advocating for coral reef protection.

An Underwater Concert for Conservation

The Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival, primarily focuses on promoting eco-conscious diving. It takes place at Looe Key Reef, a region of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This is situated around 6 miles (10 kilometers) south of Big Pine Key. The sanctuary, established in 1990, spans a whopping 3,800 square miles (9,800 square kilometers). As a result, it protects the expansive barrier reef running parallel to the 125-mile-long (201-kilometer-long) island chain.

Participants of this unique festival are treated to a breathtaking view of Looe Key’s vibrant marine life and coral formations. They swim amongst the oceanic beauty, all while listening to an aquatic-themed playlist broadcasted under the sea. A local radio station pipes the music underwater through waterproof speakers suspended beneath boats stationed above the reef.

Playlist of the Deep

The festival’s curated playlist is a collection of carefully selected water-themed songs. During the concert, classics such as the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” Jimmy Buffett’s “Fins,” and the theme from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” echo through the water. These tunes punctuate the silence of the sea, interspersed with informative diver awareness messages. The goal is to provide a fun and engaging way to educate attendees on the steps they can take to minimize environmental impacts on the world’s coral reefs.

The ocean becomes a stage where costumed “mermaids” and other characters add visual flair to the concert. The resulting spectacle combines education with entertainment, set against the unique backdrop of the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef.

Local radio station 104.1 FM and the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce organize the four-hour musical extravaganza. So, it’s clear their commitment to conservation and creativity is the driving force behind this immersive, educational, and eco-friendly event.

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Source: “Underwater music show in the Florida Keys promotes awareness of coral reef protection” — Associated Press

WTF Fun Fact 13374 – The Basal Meristem

Have you ever wondered why most grass is able to stand straight up without flopping over until it’s very long? It’s because of something called the basal meristem.

Anatomy of grass – the basal meristem

Gras is much more than a simple ground cover. This seemingly humble plant boasts a remarkable adaptation that allows it to thrive even in the face of grazing and cutting. The basal meristem is grass’s unique way of growing from the base.

The basal meristem, located at the base of the grass plant, is a specialized tissue responsible for its continuous growth and regenerative capabilities. Many other plants rely on apical meristems at the tips of their shoots. But grasses have evolved to grow from the base, giving them an edge in challenging environments.

The benefits of a basal meristem

This adaptation is particularly beneficial in the context of grazing and cutting. When herbivores nibble on the aboveground parts of the grass, they remove the exposed leaves and stems. However, the basal meristem remains intact, allowing the plant to bounce back quickly. It is from this resilient meristem that new shoots emerge, ensuring the ongoing growth and survival of the grass.

The ability to regrow from the base makes grass an ideal choice for grazing pastures, where animals feed on the vegetation. The constant nibbling from herbivores triggers the basal meristem to produce new shoots, providing a continuous food source for livestock and wildlife.

Reasons to mow your lawn

Grass’s remarkable regenerative abilities are not limited to grazing situations. Lawn maintenance, such as mowing, also benefits from the basal meristem’s unique growth pattern. When a lawnmower cuts the visible blades of grass, the basal meristem remains untouched, ready to initiate the regrowth process. This allows lawns to maintain their vibrant appearance, quickly recovering from the trimming.

The frequency and height at which the lawn is mowed can indirectly affect the health and growth of grass. Regular mowing at the appropriate height promotes a healthier lawn by removing the top portion of the grass blades and stimulating lateral growth. This encourages the development of a denser and more resilient turf. Mowing also prevents the grass from becoming too tall and promotes the allocation of resources to the basal meristem, where new shoots originate.

However, it’s important to note that cutting the grass too short, known as scalping, can have negative effects on the basal meristem and overall grass health. Scalping can damage the meristem and hinder regrowth, leading to a weakened lawn.

Restoring grasslands

The basal meristem’s resilience also plays a crucial role in the restoration and management of grasslands. Whether it’s rehabilitating degraded landscapes or controlling invasive species, understanding the basal meristem’s mechanisms is essential. By cutting the aboveground parts of unwanted plants, resource managers can harness the regenerative power of the basal meristem to encourage the growth of desired grass species and promote ecosystem health.

In addition to its regrowth capabilities, the basal meristem contributes to the overall hardiness of grasses. This adaptation enables grass to endure and recover from environmental stresses such as drought, fire, and physical disturbances. The continuous growth from the base allows grasses to maintain their vigor, even when exposed to challenging conditions. This resilience makes them essential players in stabilizing soil, preventing erosion, and providing valuable habitat for numerous plant and animal species.

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Source: “Grass Biology” — Grasses of Palm Beach and Martin Counties

WTF Fun Fact 12826 – The Problem With Preferring Trees Over Grasslands

Apparently, we’re tree snobs. Unfortunately, preferring trees over grasslands actually ends up hurting the environment because grasslands are complex and much-needed ecosystems.

Still, we have to admit we love trees.

Why do we love forests?

In a recent article for The Atlantic, writer Julia Rosen pointed out a painful truth:

“Grasslands rank among the most imperiled and least protected biomes on Earth. They are disappearing even faster than forests, and much of what remains has suffered varying degrees of damage. Their decline threatens a huge chunk of the planet’s biodiversity, the livelihoods of roughly 1 billion people, and countless ecological services such as carbon and water storage. Yet these losses don’t register with the same force as deforestation. Perhaps because we do not notice, or perhaps because we do not care.”

We had no idea. Still, we find ourselves thinking that trees are just more helpful – but apparently, that’s wrong (or at least misguided).

Preferring trees over grasslands is “arboreal chauvinism”

Ok, we’re not fond of the term, but it does some interesting linguistic work when you think about it. A lot of us really do think of grasslands as flat and boring and…beige.

Of course, no one who is advocating for grasslands, such as prairies, is against trees. They’re just trying to raise our awareness and change our perspective so we can appreciate the need to value and conserve them.

In other words, it’s time to stop looking at prairie land as “deforested” area or proto-forests that simply aren’t fertile enough to grow trees – in fact, grasslands are their own special thing.

What’s the big deal with grasslands?

Well, for starters, the problem with disregarding grasslands in favor of trees and forests keeps prairie, savannah, and other grassland plants and animals off of conservation lists and open to extinction.

Check out this not-so-fun fact from The Atlantic: “Just 1 percent of Texas’s prairies remain intact. (Nationally, about half of native grasslands have already been converted to cropland or consumed by development, and millions more acres are lost each year.)”

To appreciate just some of what grasslands have to offer, consider this:

“Despite their apparent simplicity, grasslands are bastions of biodiversity. They support everything from large, charismatic megafauna (think lions and elephants) to humble pollinators and rare wildflowers. The Cerrado, for instance, is home to more than 12,000 plant species, a third of which occur nowhere else on Earth. And a mountain grassland in Argentina holds the world record for the most plant species found within a square meter of land: 89.”

That’s a lot of biodiversity to give up if we don’t remember that forests aren’t the only type of ecosystems we need to preserve.

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Source: “Trees Are Overrated” — The Atlantic

WTF Fun Fact 12701 – Like A Fish Out Of Water

We may not all love bees, but we can’t live without them since they pollinate the crops that make the food we eat (among other integral ecological roles). That makes protecting them integral to our future.

In California, that means considering them “fish” for conservation purposes.

The law is a weird thing sometimes. In this case, it required some creative thinking in order to make sure bees got protected status under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

Others had argued that the Act protects only “birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and plants” – in other words, not insects like bees. They won the original court case, but it was just overturned by a Sacramento Court of Appeal.

According to Reuters:

“While ‘fish’ is ‘commonly understood to refer to aquatic species, the term of art employed by the Legislature … is not so limited,’ Associate Justice Ronald Robie wrote for the appeals court.
CESA itself does not define “fish,” but the law is part of the California Fish and Game Code. The code’s definition includes any ‘mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate (or) amphibian,’ Robie wrote. All those categories ‘encompass terrestrial and aquatic species,’ and the state legislature has already approved the listing of at least one land-based mollusk, the opinion said.
‘Accordingly, a terrestrial invertebrate, like each of the four bumblebee species, may be listed as an endangered or threatened species,’ Robie wrote, joined by Acting Presiding Justice Cole Blease and Associate Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch.'”

The case is Almond Alliance of California et al. v. Fish and Game Commission et al, Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation et al, intervenors; California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, No. C093542.

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Source: “Bees are ‘fish’ under Calif. Endangered Species Act – state court” — Reuters