The Time Idaho Dealt With Its Surplus Of Beavers By Parachuting Them Into Its Backcountry

Not an actual photo of the incident, just an incredibly realistic photoshop. Image credit: Jody Ann/shutterstock.com, TonLammerts/shutterstock.com, IFLScience.

In 1948, the state of Idaho solved two problems in one go: a beaver nuisance, and a surplus of parachutes left over from World War II. 

Shortly after the war, people began to move nearer to Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho. The resident beavers, which had been there for decades or even centuries, were soon declared a nuisance by the Idaho Fish and Game Department, who decided to rehome them 314 kilometers (195 miles) away in the Chamberlain Basin.

The relocation of beavers was no simple task. At the time, the practice was to approach them in the wilderness and load them up on mules and horses. They were then transported to the trapper's truck, where they would be moved (in hot and dusty conditions) closer to their new location, and loaded onto horses or mules once more, to be taken to their new home.

The whole time they would be handled by the trappers, as they needed to be constantly cooled and watered. Older beavers became quite cantankerous, while beavers of all ages often refused to eat.

"Horses and mules become spooky and quarrelsome when loaded with a struggling, odorous pair of live beavers," Elmo W. Heter of the Idaho Fish and Game Department wrote in The Journal of Wildlife Management in 1950. "These problems involve further handling and too frequently result in a loss of beavers."

A solution was needed, and Heter believed that solution was to throw beavers out of an airplane. Thankfully for the beavers, a little more thought was put into it before they were jettisoned at 4,500 meters (15,000 feet).

For a start, the beavers had to be heavy enough to cause the parachutes to open, which could be easily solved by upping the weight of the container the beavers were placed in. The next problem was how do you keep a beaver inside a box whilst it flies towards the ground at terminal velocity, and yet make it easy to get out of when they land gently on the ground. 

Their first solution was to make the box of beaver food. The woven willow boxes would land, whereupon the beavers would eat their way out of it, somewhat like if your car doors were made of lasagna. However, "This method was discarded when it was discovered that beavers might chew their way out of these boxes too soon, and be loose in the plane, or fall out of a box during the drop," according to Heter.

The next solution was much better, as the animals' lives didn't rely on them refraining from having a snack. One container was placed inside another, and a series of ropes were used, which would release the beavers when they reached the ground and the tension from the ropes was released.

The next problem was aiming the beavers. Unlike human paratroopers, beavers are not known for their ability to control the direction of their descent. Experimenting with different heights, they discovered it was best to lob a box of beavers out of a plane at 150-2,600 meters (500-800 feet).

"This height assures sufficient time for the 'chute to set the box down gently," Heter wrote. "Yet, it is low enough for accuracy in placing the box in the selected meadow, and to avoid trees or other obstacles in which the 'chute and box might become entangled."

You'll be happy to learn that tests were carried out with weighted boxes in place of the beavers. The only thing left to do was to try it out for real, after first (genuinely) naming the test beaver "Geronimo".

Luckily, in 2015, original footage of the beaver drop was unearthed by fish and game historian Sharon Clark that proves we are not making this up. 

Geronimo was thrown out of a plane onto a test field, "scrambled" from his box, was collected by trappers and thrown out of a plane again. And again and again.

"Poor fellow! He finally became resigned, and as soon as we approached him, would crawl back into his box ready to go aloft again," Heter wrote.

As a reward for his troubles, Geronimo had first dibs on the real release, which he conducted with three other females with whom he would establish a colony.

The scheme was considered a success, with 76 live beavers being thrown out of an airplane that fall. There was only one casualty when a rope broke and a box opened. The beaver worked his head out of the opening and climbed on top of the box.

"Even so, had he stayed where he was, all would have gone well; but for some inexplicable reason, when the box was within 75 feet of the ground, he jumped or fell from the box," according to Heter.

Other than this casualty, Operation Throw Beavers Out Of An Airplaine was a triumph. 

"Observations made late in 1949 showed all the airborne transplantings to be successful," Heter wrote. "Beavers had built dams, constructed houses, stored up food, and were well on their way to producing colonies."

In case you were wondering, airdropping animals to new locations is still a thing. 


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