Look! Up in the sky!
It’s a bird! … It’s a plane! It’s … a beaver?
Shortly after World War II, a crew from Idaho Fish and Game came up with a plan to relocate several dozen beavers from populated areas by parachuting them into wilderness areas.
Boise State Public Radio (and others) dubbed it “the great beaver drop of 1948.”
In the operation, 76 beavers were shoved out of airplanes in special boxes designed to open on impact.
Miraculously, all of them survived except one, according to the report.
According to Scientific American — which termed the operation “one of the nuttiest solutions to wildlife relocation ever dreamed up” — the wildlife workers saw it as a win-win solution to the problem that arose as the population grew around towns like McCall and Payette Lake.
As humans are wont to do, the newcomers built farms, installed irrigation systems and planted orchards.
The beavers proceeded to do what beavers everywhere have been doing for thousands of years: chomping down trees and blocking up waterways.
The humans didn’t like having their fruit trees and man-made watering systems destroyed.
So the Fish and Game Department began relocating beavers to more remote areas, which was considered beneficial to the new area.
“[P]ast experience had shown that transplanted beavers were great at setting up new colonies, multiplying, and providing valuable environmental services such as storing water, reducing the risk of flash floods and erosion, and improving the habitats of other mammals, fish, waterfowl, and plants in the area,” Scientific American reported.
According to Boise Public Radio, Idaho Fish and Game staff member Elmo Heter cooked up the scheme to move the beavers to the Chamberlain Basin, in what is now known as the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area.
But making the long trip to transport the beavers with pack animals posed too many challenges: For one thing, the beavers would overheat and die if kept out of water too long. Another complicating factor was that pack horses and mules became “spooky and quarrelsome when loaded with a struggling, odorous pair of live beavers,” Heter said, according to the report.
Heter knew of a supply of parachutes left over from the war, which inspired the idea of attempting an airdrop.
It was a fairly cost-effective plan: “The estimated cost for dropping four beavers from a plane was around $30 in 1948, that’s about $294 in today’s dollars,” the public radio outlet reported.
He tested the plan on an elderly male beaver, appropriately named Geronimo, who participated — willingly or otherwise — in multiple test drops.
Once the plan was perfected, the remaining critters were loaded up and dropped into the region.
Geronimo was reportedly rewarded for his cooperation by being airdropped, one last time, with a harem of three female beavers.
They went right to work, and apparently, they did a great job. Decades later, the result was “some amazing habitat that is part of what is now the largest protected roadless forest in the lower 48 states,” Steve Liebenthal of IFG told Boise State Public Radio.
The story grabbed a lot of attention when first reported in January 2015, the outlet reported. But it really took off that October, after film footage of the project was discovered, according to a follow-up report by Boise State Public Radio.
The film was discovered by Sharon Clark, Fish and Game Department historian. Acting on rumors that there was footage of the beaver drop, she located the film, “Fur for the Future.” The film had been mislabeled and misfiled, and it took her years to find it, the public radio outlet reported.
Now, the footage is widely circulated on the internet.
Steve Nadeau, manager of fur-bearers for Idaho Fish and Game, said the department has long since stopped relocating animals by parachute, according to the report.
“We haven’t done airplane drops for 50-plus years, but it apparently worked pretty well back then to re-establish them in remote places,” he said.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.