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Here are some beavers parachuting against their will

Here are some beavers parachuting against their will


New post-war documentary footage shows the "great beaver drop" of 1948

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There's no other way to put this: here is some footage of parachuting beavers.

Okay, let me back up. You see, the Idaho Fish and Game service has struggled with beavers for decades, especially after World War II. The population was expanding fast into new, undeveloped areas, and it was threatening the beaver's long-established way of life (or as we humans saw it, beavers were becoming a problem for us). One Idaho Fish and Game employee had the idea to trap and relocate the beavers, a practice performed on lots of other wildlife, but the most suitable place for them to live was in an extremely remote place called Chamberlain basin.

Luckily for Idaho Fish and Game, there was a surplus of parachutes after the war. Boxes were hand-made out of willow wood and tied to the parachutes and, in 1948, 76 beavers were air-dropped into the area.

The "great beaver drop" of 1948

The story of this "great beaver drop" was popularized by Boise State Public Radio earlier this year. But now? Now there's video.

After years of "whispers" of the missing footage, the department historian for the Idaho Fish and Game service found the mythical film — called "Fur the Future" — in a box, mislabeled. It was digitally converted and uploaded to YouTube.

The video focuses on a number of trapping and relocation efforts, but the entire thing — especially the section about the great beaver drop, which starts about seven minutes in — straddles a line between hilarious and upsetting that is as thin as a twig. On one hand, the idea of parachuting beavers is viscerally funny. On the other, there's something wholly unnerving about listening to the war-time narrator cheerily convince the viewers (and himself) that everything they're seeing is hunky-dory. Here's how he described the relocation of some muskrats:

Out they come! Field men lift them by their tails. It doesn't bother the muskrats at all. It would seem the tails were put there for lifting handles.

This little fellow doesn't mind the long, unfamiliar trip he's just experienced, that willow twig is what he wanted in the first place. "That's part of my diet," he would say. "This place is O-KAY."

Things get even weirder when the video arrives at the parachuting beaver footage. It shows the Fish and Game employees packing up a "load of beaver for the mountains," each in their own "beaver dropbox." (Dropbox, here's your chance to find a better name than "Paper.") Then a man, who I'm half-certain is Paul Newman, loads them onto a single-prop plane and off they go. Back to the cheery narration:

The plane makes a careful approach, ready for the drop. Now! Into the air, and down they swing! Down to the ground, near a stream, or a lake. The box opens, and a most unusual and novel trip ends for Mr. Beaver.

According to Boise State Public Radio, all but one of the beavers survived the drop. One Fish and Game rep even tells them that the operation "created some amazing habitat that is part of what is now the largest protected roadless forest in the lower 48 states."

I won't lie, that knowledge makes me feel better about having a laugh at these beavers' expense. And who knows, maybe I'm just reading too much into the Jim Halpert look that one beaver gives the camera. Maybe the feeling gnawing at me that something is wrong about dropping beavers out of a plane with WWII parachutes just comes from the warbling audio, the crackly film, and the strange jumps in the editing, all which make it look more like a Dharma Initiative Orientation Film and less like a nature documentary. Or maybe, just maybe, there's a reason the operation hasn't been repeated in the last 67 years.