VIDEO: Beavers parachute into Idaho’s backcountry - Yes, this actually happened
FeatureAuthor: Steven Shaw
BOISE, Idaho – Nearly 70 years ago, just after the end of World War II, Idaho Fish and Game came up with a unique plan for dealing with the troublesome beavers around the then booming McCall area. The solution: trap them, put them in a box, strap the box to a parachute and push the beaver box out of a perfectly good airplane over the rugged, remote and roadless Idaho wilderness. This all sounds like a joke right? Well, it’s not and Idaho Fish and Game has released video proof of the unorthodox yet surprisingly effective approach to wildlife management. (video below, parachuting beavers start about 7 minutes in.)
After WWII, many folks were building cabins around Payette Lake near McCall, Idaho. The area’s beaver population was healthy to say the least and was causing headaches for the newly developed area. Fish and Game Officer Elmo Heter was stationed in McCall and tasked with finding a solution. Heter knew the nearby Chamberlain Basin ecosystem would benefit from a healthy population of nature’s engineers and was so secluded in Idaho’s mountains that the beavers could forever live peacefully away from humans.
The problem was how to get them there. There were no roads (and still aren’t) into the Basin and loading the beavers onto pack animals simply was not option. Heter’s report reads “[h]orses and mules become spooky and quarrelsome when loaded with a struggling, odorous pair of live beavers.” His next idea would become part folklore, part are you kidding me and part I think it’s going to work: skydiving beavers into the backcountry.
There were plenty of extra parachutes left over from WWII. Now for how get the beavers safely from the air to the ground. The first idea was put the beavers inside a woven box made out of willows. It soon became clear that would not work as the beavers immediately starting gnawing their way towards freedom. The risk of them escaping mid-drop was simply too high. Next, Heter designed a wooden box specially designed to open when it hits the ground. He tested the contraception with dummy weights and it seemed to work just fine.
Next up, live beaver take one. Heter trapped an elder male beaver that had seen a thing or two. But the aptly named “Geronimo” had never seen anything like this. Geronimo was placed in the box and dropped over a landing field. When his box popped open he scurried out healthy as could be (his handlers would scoop him up and repeat the process, again and again). Heter described the process: “Poor fellow! He finally became resigned, and as soon as we approached him, would crawl back into his box ready to go aloft again.” After many tests runs it was time for action.
The incredibly patient Geronimo was rewarded for all of his hard work. His prize was three lovely lady beavers and one last flight to his new home in the Chamberlain Basin. Soon Geronimo created a thriving colony. In all, 76 beavers were trapped and dropped into the Chamberlain Basin. To this day hikers may very well come across some of the skydiving beavers’ kin.