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


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