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Beavers Once Parachuted into Idaho’s Backcountry

Strange things can happen when you combine WWII military surplus, innovative thinking and a bunch of beavers in need of a new home

(George Lepp/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Samantha Wright over at Boise State Public Radio recently unearthed this gem from one of the stranger—yet shockingly effective—chapters in America’s conservation history.

The year was 1948, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game had a problem. A people problem. They were moving into the western portion of the state, which had been wooded wilderness for centuries. And they were clashing with some of the original inhabitants—particularly beavers.

Beavers, simply by doing what they do, can be highly destructive to human settlements. For the safety of both the animals and the new homes, Fish and Game officials began to plan to remove the beavers. The officials knew just where to put their charges—an isolated expanse of protected land called the Chamberlain Basin. But they were stumped on how to do it.

Elmo Heter, an employee of the Fish and Game Department in McCall, Idaho, came up with a plan so crazy it could work. He proposed using surplus parachutes from WWII to drop the beavers into the backcountry by plane. After some trial and error, he devised just the right enclosure on which to attach a parachute, Idaho Fish and Game's Steve Liebenthal told Boise State Public Radio:

So Heter came up with a specially-designed wooden box that would open upon impact. He tested it first with some dummy weights. Then he found an older male beaver who became his test pilot. Heter named him Geronimo. “And Geronimo went through a series of tests to see how this plan would work," says Liebenthal.

When the plan was perfected, Geronimo, along with three comely female beavers, was one of the first of his kind parachute into beaver paradise.

All in all that year, 76 beavers were dropped into the basin, and all but one survived the fall. They went on to contribute to their habitat and make more beaver babies, the descendants of which still live in the area today.

Be sure to check out Wright’s article for the full story and some incredible photographs of Geronimo and other boxed beavers taking the plunge. 

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