Idaho Fish and Game

Idaho, like most places that balance urban and rural areas, often runs into a problem of a species encroaching on a city. When this happens, Fish and Game agents relocate the animals. In 1948, the state faced this problem with its beaver population and landed on a novel way to take the beavers to their new homes in remote areas: parachuting them out of an airplane.

Idaho Fish and Game made a short film about the project that was only recently uncovered and digitized. Take a look.

Sharon Clark, department historian at Idaho Fish and Game, had heard rumors about the parachuting beavers for years and had long searched for the missing film until finding it earlier this fall.

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However, the backstory of how a state wildlife agency came to throw beavers out of an airplane is, well, wild. According to Boise State Public Radio, the beavers became a problem after WWII when people began building homes on a number of lakes near Payette, a small town in central Idaho, on the Oregon border.

It was the idea of Elmo Heter, who worked for Idaho Fish and Game at the time, to use excess parachutes to place the beavers in a remote area called the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. Their options were limited, since the area is inaccessible by road.

Using a test beaver named (naturally) Geronimo, Heter tested a specially designed wooden crate that would open upon impact with the ground, cushion the beaver for landing, and keep the beaver in place while transporting so it couldn't chew through the box.

Again, per Boise State Public Radio:

Heter dropped Geronimo on a landing field, over and over and over again. Each time, Geronimo popped out of the box, was caught by handlers, and put back inside for another ride.

In a report for the Journal of Wildlife Management titled "Transplanting Beavers," Heter wrote, "Poor fellow! He finally became resigned, and as soon as we approached him, would crawl back into his box ready to go aloft again."

The tests successful, the plan was put into action, and Geronimo was rewarded for his bravery by being sent to a remote area of Idaho to create a new habitat with three female beavers.

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Seventy-five beavers followed Geronimo into the area, though one did not survive the drop, and according to Idaho Fish and Game's Steve Liebenthal, they "created some amazing habitat that is part of what is now the largest protected roadless forest in the lower 48 states."

David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: david.matthews@fusion.net