- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - This is the story of a beaver named Geronimo and a simpler time of ingenuity when the rodents parachuted into Idaho’s backcountry.

Yes, I just wrote that sentence and every word is true.

As the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has celebrated its 75th anniversary this year, a number of wild tales of wildlife management have surfaced and none are better than Geronimo’s.

His tale is from the 1940s when an abundance of beavers in some areas prompted depredation concerns, according to an article called “Transplanting Beavers by Airplane and Parachute” by Fish and Game’s Elmo W. Heter. The article was published in 1950 in the “Journal of Wildlife Management.”

Faced with a bevy of beavers, Fish and Game decided to transplant some of the toothy critters into the backcountry.

The accepted method at the time was capturing them, trucking them to a trailhead and then packing them by mule train to some unoccupied lush meadow. There the beaver equivalent of Adam and Eve would be released to do beaver things and get busy making more beavers.

“Beavers usually set up colonies, multiply and establish important fur-bearing populations,” Heter wrote. “In addition, they do much toward improving the habitats of game, fish and waterfowl and perform important service in watershed conservation.”

The problem with trucks and mules, however, was beavers died in large numbers because they weren’t suited for the heat of summertime travel.

“Older individuals often become dangerously belligerent,” Heter wrote. “Rough trips on pack animals are very hard on them. Horses and mules become spooky and quarrelsome when loaded with a struggling, odorous pair of live beavers.”

(Let me stop here and point out that the problem with present-day Fish and Game reports is that they don’t use enough words like belligerent, quarrelsome and odorous.)

Heter didn’t explain how Fish and Game ultimately turned to parachutes - I picture a meeting of bigwigs with diagrams, a wading pool and model beavers - but in 1948 they became the preferred method for a backcountry beavers blitzkrieg.

(I want to stop here again and ponder the thoughts of the elk and deer as they watched the aerial raid of ruffian rodents.)

Fish and Game officials first experimented with willow boxes but that effort was abandoned because of fears the beavers would eat their way out of their airborne box at the most inopportune time. Heter’s crew eventually made a box that broke apart when it hit the ground.

But would the beaver die in the process?

Enter Geronimo.

To test proper drop heights and box designs, Fish and Game officials dropped Geronimo “again and again.”

“Each time he scrambled out of the box, someone was on hand to pick him up,” 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.”

With Geronimo’s help, Fish and Game learned that the best launch height was between 500 and 800 feet because it allowed the chute to open properly and still maintain some accuracy in placing the bewildered beavers in the selected meadow.

In 1948, Fish and Game dropped 76 beavers in the backcountry. There was only one fatality, a beaver that “jumped or fell” from his box at about 75 feet.

A year later, observations showed all airborne transplants were successful. “Beavers had built dams, constructed houses, stored up food, and were well on their way to producing colonies,” Heter wrote.

Heter said the transplanting effort showed a marked savings over mules, claiming the expense of moving four beavers was $30.

Although Heter’s article makes no mention of how many beavers were ultimately transplanted via parachute - or why and when the program was stopped - he did say that Geronimo was treated well for his efforts.

He “had a priority reservation on the first ship into the hinterland, and that three young females went with him,” Heter wrote.

To read Heter’s story - and see a diagram of the beaver boxes - go to tinyurl.com/fly-beaver.

___

Information from: Post Register, https://www.postregister.com


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