Idaho’s Bucktooth Bandits

I have a few family members, and several close friends, who volunteered to not only join our wonderful military, but—strange at it may be to some of us—volunteered to jump out of perfectly good airplanes with nothing but a hope, a prayer—and expectantly—a fully functioning parachute.

I deeply admire these people.

A few days ago, I was perusing some of my Idaho history books and came across an interesting story that, at first, I thought was tongue and cheek story meant to impart a moral message of some sort.

Nope.

It was the story of America’s other “airborne” force. While the heroes of this airborne deployment likely didn’t volunteer, the success of their mission is indisputable.

Since they weren’t given a motto by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game—like the 82nd Airborne Division’s, Death from Above, or the 101st Airborne Division’s, Screaming Eagles—I have decided to call them Idaho’s Bucktooth Bandits. You read that right. And to make it even more clear, Idaho’s Bucktooth Bandits were Beavers!

I felt I my liberty in honoring this airborne force was acceptable, since no one else gave them a cool motto.

The story I came across was a 1950 Journal of Wildlife Management article, in which Elmo W. Heter explained how Idaho Fish and Game managers came up with an ingenious way to deploy beavers into Idaho’s wilderness.

Basically, the story explains, Idaho Fish and Game once parachuted beavers into the backcountry to boost populations there and lessen pressure elsewhere.

In his article, Heter explains prior to the “airborne” solution, the accepted method of transplanting beaver, was to truck them to a trailhead, and then transport them by mule trains to an unoccupied lush meadow.

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

Unfortunately, beavers do not do well when exposed to the heat of summertime, unless they are in water.

“Beavers died in large number during transport,” Heter explained. “They weren’t suited for the heat of summertime travel.”

Heter explained not only did the beaver’s become “belligerent,” during this transport method, the mules hauling the beavers to their new homes also became, “quarrelsome” at the attitude of their beaver passengers.

Heter said Idaho Fish and Game Managers came up with a nifty solution to handling the beaver transplant problem: drop the furry little rodents into their new homes via parachute.

Fish and Game managers, according to Heter, tested several methods for accomplishing this grand idea. They tested, “dummy” weights, and a few other methods, before finally settling on using a real beaver, Geronimo he was aptly named, to test their airborne theory.

“Geronimo was dropped again and again,” Heter wrote. “Each time he scrambled out of the box someone was on hand to pick him up. Poor fellow! He finally became resigned, and as soon as we approached him, would crawl back into his box ready to go aloft again.”

Geronimo’s “volunteer” efforts gave Idaho Fish and Game the information they needed: dropping the beavers from 500 to 800 feet, was optimum for success.
As soon as this discovery was made, Idaho Fish and Game went to work building beaver parachute boxes. The boxes included suspension ropes that were attached to parachutes, and plenty of holes to ensure the beavers could breathe on their way down.

“The two ends of each of these sling ropes are joined in a square knot. Approximately 1 inch in from each sling rope, and crossing the bottom of the box but not fastened to it, is a heavy 2 inch rubber band. These elastic straps extend 3 inches up each side of the box, and are fastened there with fence staples. They are cross-sections of heavy-duty truck tubes so that they form double spring hinges. Each band exerts about 10 pounds of tension, which is sufficient to snap the box open and free the beavers as soon as the much greater tension of the shroud lines is removed when the box lands on the ground and the ‘chute collapses,” Heter wrote.

“Observations made late in 1949 showed all the airborne transplanting’s to be successful. Beavers had built dams, constructed houses, stored up food, and were well on their way to producing colonies.”

Heter said of the 76 beavers dropped into Idaho’s wilderness, only one beaver died in the process. Somehow the beaver managed to get out of his box and fell about 75 feet from the ground.

Geronimo was given special consideration. He was transplanted with three females, and by all accounts, “did right fine in establishing his colony.”

While Idaho’s Bucktooth Bandits didn’t do much in defense of my county, like the lauded 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne, as an Idahoan, I have to say I’m very proud of Idaho’s furry airborne heroes.

Beavers were nearly eradicated in some parts of Idaho in the 19th century. These brave—sort of—volunteers brought these colonies back.

If nothing else it’s a pretty cool story, and in asking my airborne friends their thoughts on the subject, I received a resounding “AIRBORNE.”

Apparently anyone, or any animal, who has a successful parachute landing, is worthy of praise and adulation.

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