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In the 1940s and 50s, “a struggling, odorous pair of live beavers” could actually help improve fish and wildlife habitat—the trouble was transporting them
This is the story of a beaver named Geronimo and a simpler time, when ingenuity led to rodents parachuting into Idaho’s backcountry.
Yes, I just wrote that sentence, and every word is true.
As modern-day sportsmen and women, we’ve become accustomed to stocked lakes and waterways and heard many tales of capturing and collaring big game animals to study and improve their odds. But, for my money, no wildlife management story is better than Geronimo’s.
It begins in the 1940s, when an abundance of beavers in some areas prompted depredation concerns. According to an article from Idaho Fish and Game employee Elmo W. Heter, the agency was faced with a bevy of beavers and decided to transplant some of the toothy critters into the backcountry. The accepted method at the time was to capture them, truck them to a trailhead, and then pack 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 that 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 the department ultimately turned to parachutes—I picture a meeting of bigwigs with diagrams, a wading pool, and model beavers—but in 1948, airdropping the little critters in a backcountry blitzkrieg seemed to be the idea with most promise. (I want to stop here, again, and call upon the mental image of elk and deer on the ground, watching an aerial raid of ruffian rodents.)
Fish and Game officials first experimented with attaching the parachutes to willow boxes, but that effort was abandoned because of fears that 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? That was an interesting question for sure.
Enter Geronimo. To test proper drop heights and box designs, Fish and Game officials dropped the male beaver “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 a selected meadow.
That year, 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 that 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.
He said the transportation method showed a marked savings over mules; he claimed they could drop four beavers for $30.
Although we don’t know how many beavers were ultimately transplanted via parachute—or why and when the program was stopped—Heter did say that Geronimo was treated well for his efforts. He “had a priority reservation on the first ship into the hinterland, and three young females went with him,” Heter wrote.
To read Heter’s full account and see a diagram of the beaver boxes, click here. For archive video footage of parachuting beavers, click here. And for the latest on today’s (more sophisticated) conservation initiatives in Idaho and across the West, keep following the TRCP.
Much of this story appeared in the Idaho Falls Post Register on Dec. 11, 2014 (read the original here), but it never gets old.
Sportsmen across the West have been rallying hard against state takeover of America’s public lands—east coasters can’t just kick back and let them do the work of protecting our public lands legacy
The last time my D.C.-area friends and I wanted to unleash our crazy birddogs and hunt, the options were limited to hunting on preserves or driving three hours or more to a Wilderness Management Area that stocks the land with pheasants. Most days, my English setter, Belle, has to settle for sniffing out birds and squirrels in the bushes around my apartment complex. This is the reality in the eastern half of the U.S., where we’re surrounding by more major cities and more fragmentation, while the West enjoys 640 million acres of public lands with astounding fish and wildlife habitat. As east coasters, we can be jealous, or we can be proud—after all, those lands out West are ours, too.
That’s why hunters in our region need to be concerned about Western states gaining control of public lands. This fight isn’t a Western issue, it’s an access issue, one that impacts millions of acres that belong to all of us.
Still, the threat of public land transfer hasn’t lit a fire under Eastern sportsmen, and this makes it easier for our elected officials to support this dangerous idea. Did you know that last year the South Carolina General Assembly supported Utah’s resolution to transfer Western public lands to the state? The state legislature passed its own resolution that encourages Utah’s unprecedented steps in the wrong direction. Ten other states introduced similar measures, but Tennessee slammed the measure. With the most-visited national park in their backyard, these decision-makers understand the importance of public access to bountiful natural resources and outdoor recreation, like the Great Smoky Mountains’ unparalleled fishing. We need more states east of the Mississippi to take a stand, or Western states could seize millions of acres, bungle their management, fail to pay the bills, or worse, sell them off to private interests.
Imagine the Smokies being transferred to state agencies. Visitors from around the country and the world wouldn’t be able to access the park or the Appalachian Trail (AT) without paying an entrance fee. That’s just another barrier to entry for American families, who need the adventure and simplicity of the outdoors more than ever. During an interview with Woods and Water SC host Roger Metz, Steven Rinella recently made an appeal to east coast sportsmen to oppose public land transfer, if only because it’s bad business. He emphasized that under state ownership, everything would come second to generating revenue from these lands. That’s no benefit to the American public, who could get cut out of access they rely on for outdoor recreation.
Here in the East, it’s our time to step up and stand with Western sportsmen. We’re all Americans who care deeply about our outdoor traditions. And it’s easier than you think to take action. Educate yourself and sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition to let your lawmakers know that you own 640 million acres in the West, too. Whether we hunt public land in Montana or private land in Virginia, we can’t sit back and give up these wild places.
This spring, our policy intern volunteered with a group of other college students to help tackle the NPS’s maintenance backlog across the country—here’s what she learned
For many college students, spring break means piling into a car, driving to Florida, and spending a week on the beach. But this spring, I spent a week with eight other students volunteering for the National Park Service (NPS) through my university’s Alternative Spring Break program. Organized by schools across the country, students get the chance to learn about issues impacting communities near and far from home through hands-on service opportunities. As a volunteer at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Georgia, I saw firsthand just some of the issues that our National Park Service is facing as we celebrate the agency’s 100th anniversary.
Fort Oglethorpe wasn’t the most glamorous destination, but it gave us an opportunity to work directly with park rangers at one of the 412 areas of the National Park System, which covers more than 84 million acres. They put us to work on Glen Falls Trail, one of the most popular places to hike in the park, and we spent our week removing invasive species that threaten native biodiversity, building rock stairs to make the trail more accessible, and pruning overgrown vegetation, like thornbushes that had the potential to injure hikers.
We also focused on making the mile-long trail safer by widening it, removing hazards like fallen trees, and improving drainage, so the trail wasn’t as heavily impacted by storms. The staff at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park greatly appreciated our commitment to enhancing their park and working on projects they didn’t have the resources to complete on their own. By removing all the garbage on the trail, we even made a small contribution to the fish and wildlife in the area.
These projects represent just a few drops in the bucket of deferred maintenance projects that are plaguing federal land management agencies, like the NPS, that don’t receive adequate funding. Earlier this year, the park service alone reported a $12 billion maintenance backlog. NPS seasonal and full-time staff was also cut from 21,897 people in 2010 to 17,967 employees this year, despite an annual increase in national park visitation. But the issue is a lot more complex than some would make it seem. The NPS has no way to track exactly how many visitors hike or walk their dogs down Glen Falls Trail, so it’s easier for Congress to underestimate how much money the rangers need to maintain these areas.
Knowing how strained the agency’s budget has become, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened that park staff spend any time removing the amount of trash we found that week. As the daughter of a sportsman, I learned at a young age to “leave no trace,” and I grew to understand why, after catching my fair share of flip flops and chip bags (a big disappointment when I thought I was reeling in a particularly shiny fish). It detracts from our outdoor experiences and, in some cases, keeps someone else from doing their job.
So, I offer this advice as we celebrate the NPS Centennial this summer: Find your park and respect it. Teach kids and grandkids that America’s public lands are unique in all the world. Tell your lawmakers to fund conservation and support the agencies who care for our national parks and other public resources. You can also check out NPS Volunteer Days to help get the job done a little faster.
All month long, we’re celebrating the National Park Service centennial with a blog series about our most significant experiences in the parks. Check back here for new posts from the TRCP staff and special guests, and follow the hashtag #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Shannon Fagan is the TRCP summer intern through the Demmer Scholar Program. She is going into her senior year at Michigan State University where she is majoring in Social Relations and Policy and minoring in Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy.
Ian and Charity Rutter own and operate R&R Fly Fishing, a fly fishing guide service located in Townsend, Tenn. They have two children and are active members with Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, spending many of their off days volunteering with fisheries biologists in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains. Their professional lives are spent treating anglers to the wild trout streams of the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park and on East Tennessee’s tailwaters, rivers, and lakes. Charity and Ian have traveled across the country to share their knowledge and passion for fly fishing, and together, the Rutters have written and photographed multiple books on the subject. Their publications and presentations encourage people to get outside and enjoy the sport of fly fishing.
From now through August 31, Charity and Ian are guest judging your best “National parks, national treasures” photos for this round of the #PublicLandsProud photo contest. They’re looking for a winning photo that for photos that don’t necessarily highlight the best-known places but rather these equally impressive scenes that most people miss, so make sure your national parks moment beckons! And watch the TRCP Instagram account this week too, as Charity and Ian will be taking over our account the week of August 15 and giving us a glimpse into their lives on public lands.
TRCP: How do the Rutters like to spend time outside?
Charity & Ian: Public lands are more than just our livelihood, they are the source and reason for our outdoor lifestyle. We are “solar powered” people, so living a life outside is required for our good health and happiness. We spend time as a family camping, hiking, fishing, boating, swimming, backpacking, and exploring as many wild places as we can. We hunt, forage wild mushrooms, and teach our children how to recognize all the flora and fauna that surround us. We teach them how to live outside and have respect for our rivers and mountains. We volunteer for stream restoration projects, river cleanups and educating the children in our public schools on the importance of clean water and air through the Trout in the Classroom program.
TRCP: What makes a great photo of a summer day spent on public lands? What will you be looking for in the winning photo?
Charity: I love to see photos that highlight the little things that surround us every day in nature – the tiny wildflower or mushroom, a salamander on a rock, or the dew drops on a fern in the woods. I love the natural light that beams through the trees as if putting a spotlight on a mossy rock or creating a sparkle on the water.
Ian: Public lands are known for iconic scenes often seen on posters and calendars, but in my experience, it’s the places that are out of sight of a road or more than a few steps off a trail that catch my attention; I’m looking for photos that don’t necessarily highlight the best-known places but rather these equally impressive scenes that most people miss.
TRCP: What make the Rutters #PublicLandsProud?
Charity & Ian: Public lands provide a resource that can be used by everyone. We are proud to be involved in volunteer work that helps restore native brook trout in the Smokies. We take our ownership in public lands seriously and dedicate ourselves to educating others on the importance of public lands and clean water. We’re proud to live in a country that gives us and our children the freedom to explore so many wild places.
Show us your #PublicLandsProud moment and you could be featured on our blog and win a #PublicLandsProud prize package. It includes a new pair of Costa sunglasses, a copy of Steven Rinella’s new book, The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game, a Simms TRCP-branded hat, a First Lite merino wool neck gaiter, TRCP/Sitka-branded YETI rambler tumbler, Orvis fishing shirt, and Bantam buck knife.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More