Idaho makes use of World War Two parachutes

In 1948, just three years after the end of World War Two, the Idaho State Government found a unique but fitting use for old World War Two parachutes.

As Idaho towns and cities were growing and spreading further into the countryside, the state’s beaver population was making a nuisance of itself. There was no need to cull the beavers, since they were useful in the wilderness and more rural areas as part of the ecosystem. Idaho’s Fish and Game service had to find a way to transport the beaver population from the urban town centres out to the depths of the wilderness where they could live happily.

Several attempts were made to capture the beavers and transport them by horse. But the backcountry was difficult to reach and extremely remote. The beavers became upset and vicious as they transported with many dying on the journey. It was Elmer W. Heter who came up with the idea to transport the beavers via air and parachute them to the ground. Parachuting animals out of planes had already been tried and tested in Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean. There mice were parachuted out over dense forest areas. However in this instance, the mice were dead and injected with poison in order to kill off brown tree snakes in Guam.

Therefore Idaho’s experiment with the beavers would be a first and it was such a success that Elmer wrote a report entitled ‘Transplanting Beavers by Air and Parachute’. The report documented the entire process. Elmer particularly wrote about the testing period, when they used a beaver to test the parachute procedure and ended up calling him Geronimo. At first they tested the procedure with dead weights in boxes attached to the parachutes. Once that was successful, Elmer’s team placed Geronimo in a parachute box and sent him out of an aircraft over and over again. Once the box hit the floor a door would open so that the beavers could then escape.

Elmer reported that Geronimo got so used to being dropped out of a plane that when he landed he would head straight back into the box, since he knew he was going to be picked up again, the Gizmodo reports.

Elmer said that for all his hard work, Geronimo was one of the first beavers sent out to the wilderness along with several female beavers. Reports monitoring the beavers said that when he eventually landed for the last time in his new home he did stay in the box for a while. But he finally emerged and went on to build a colony in the area.

76 beavers were transported and settled in the countryside using World War Two parachutes. Only one beaver died, because he had wriggled out of the box before it had landed.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE