More than half a century after a group of beavers were parachuted into the Idaho backcountry, the state’s department of fish and game has uncovered film footage of the quirky wildlife management moment.
In 1948, when some people were beginning to seek out new homes in the town of McCall and around Payette Lake in Idaho, the current residents were extremely hard to live with.
The clash between the beavers, in their abundance, and the new locals resulted in a whole lot of damage to irrigation systems, orchards, and other kinds of farming efforts, so the Fish and Game Department staff were tasked with transplanting the beavers to a more suitable habitat.
Beavers (genus Castor) are large, semiaquatic rodents of the Northern Hemisphere. Beavers are the second-largest living rodents after the capybara. They have stout bodies with large heads, long chisel-like incisors, brown or gray fur, hand-like front feet, webbed back feet, and flat, scaly tails. Beavers can be found in a number of freshwater habitats, such as rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. They are herbivorous, consuming tree bark, aquatic plants, grasses, and sedges.
Elmo Heter worked for Idaho Fish and Game in the McCall area. He had experience with beavers, and it was his job to find a solution. Heter knew that the Chamberlain Basin was the perfect place for the beavers. The animals would be away from people, and their natural activity would be beneficial to the habitat there.
The trouble is the Chamberlain Basin is in what is now the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area and there really aren’t and weren’t any roads,Steve Liebenthal – Idaho Fish and Game
It was the idea of Elmo 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.
Horses and mules become spooky and quarrelsome when loaded with a struggling, odorous pair of live beavers. These problems involve further handling and too frequently result in a loss of beavers.Elmo W. Heter – in the report “Transplanting Beavers” – Journal of Wildlife Management
Using a test beaver named 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. Geronimo went through a series of tests to see how this plan would work. 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. The estimated cost for dropping four beavers from a plane was around $30 in 1948, that’s about $294 in today’s dollars.
Poor fellow [Geronimo]! He finally became resigned, and as soon as we approached him, would crawl back into his box ready to go aloft againElmo W. Heter – in the report “Transplanting Beavers” – Journal of Wildlife Management
Geronimo made the first official real drop with 3 lovely female beavers. Once they hit the ground, it took Geronimo a little while to figure out his parachuting days were over, but he soon created a colony with his lady friends. More beavers followed Geronimo, 76 in all were dropped into the basin. All but one survived the drop and went to work.
And [the beavers] created some amazing habitat that is part of what is now the largest protected roadless forest in the lower 48 statesSteve Liebenthal – Idaho Fish and Game
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. Susan Wood has written a children’s book based on this true story. She is fascinated by the stories of people’s lives. Susan specializes in biography, memoir, and history for young people.
The savings in man hours, and in the mortality of animals, is quite evident. Sex ratios are maintained. The beavers are healthier, and in better condition to establish a colony.Elmo W. Heter – in the report “Transplanting Beavers” – Journal of Wildlife Management
- Capybaras are semiaquatic, found in and near lakes, rivers, swamps, and flooded savanna. Their diets are dominated by grasses. Adults weigh up to 143 lb. The gestation period is 130–150 days, with two to eight (most commonly four) young born to females. Capybaras are the largest living rodents in the world living in South America, the Caribbean island of Grenada, California, and Panama. [Back]
Boise State Public Radio