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Photo by Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Beavers (yes, the rodents) parachuted into Idaho wilderness

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Nearly 70 years ago, during the aftermath of WWII, beavers were parachuted into the Idaho wilderness to colonize new land.

Allow us to explain.

It’s 1948 and an increasing number of Americans are moving to the picturesque town of McCall on Payette Lake in Idaho. Unfortunately, the same area where families are building their first houses is also the same land that beavers have called home for centuries. Not surprisingly, as the population multiplied, beaver-people relations soured.

Since negotiations between rodents and humans rarely end well for both parties, Elmo Heter of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game was tasked with finding a solution that would be beneficial to both.

After racking his brain, he came up with the perfect place to relocate the beavers to: the secluded Chamberlain Basin, located just north of McCall. But the area was an untouched wild wonderland, void of roads or even paths.

Heter thought some more and came up with a crazy yet ingenious idea: what if the beavers were outfitted with parachutes and dropped from planes into the area?

He began building drop-box prototypes. His first idea was a box made of woven willow that the beavers could chew their way out once they landed. But the eager beavers made this proposition risky.

“The beavers went to work immediately upon being put into one of those boxes, and it was feared they might chew their way out while dropping form the sky,” said Steve Liebenthal, the public information specialist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, in an interview with Boise State Public Radio. “[The beaver] might even chew their way out while they were in the airplane, which would cause a problem for the pilot.”

Heter went back to the drawing board and came up with a new prototype, a box that would spring open upon impact. The box was then outfitted with surplus parachutes from WWII to ensure a smooth landing. After testing the wooden box with weights, he recruited his first real-life test subject, an older male beaver dubbed Geronimo.

After several successful tests with Geronimo, it was time for the brave beaver to embark on his colonization mission. Along with three female beaverettes, Geronimo was parachuted into the Chamberlain Basin, where he promptly began his re-population efforts. In all, 76 more beavers from McCall were dropped into the wilderness. All survived but one.

Nowadays, the Chamberlain Basin – one of the largest protected roadless forests in the lower 48 states – has a hardy beaver population to boot, all thanks to the Chris Columbus of beavers, Geronimo.

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Geronimo dropping into the Chamberlain Basin.