Parachuting beavers created a fire-resistant wetland

Watch this video to learn how parachuting beavers created a fire-resistant wetland.

How beavers benefit the ecosystem

Some people have a negative view of beavers: they tear down trees and build dams that can flood the adjacent landscape. In Idaho in the 1940s, officials rounded up beavers from populated areas and relocated them – sometimes by parachute – to remote areas such as Baugh Creek. Now, nearly 70 years later, NASA satellite images show that these areas where beavers settled are lusher, greener, and more resistant to fire and drought.

Parachuting beavers

Some of the areas that Idaho wanted to relocate the beavers to were so remote that there were no roads to get them there. So, they came up with a novel solution. Idaho Fish and Game used surplus parachutes from World War II to drop the beavers into their new homes.

At first, the fish and game people figured they could drop the beavers in woven willow boxes. Then the beavers could chew themselves to freedom upon landing. But as soon as they put the beavers in the boxes, they began to chew their way out. And they didn’t want a plane full of loose beavers. Instead, Idaho Fish and Game designed a box that would open upon impact. They tested the box’s design on one eager beaver they aptly named Geronimo. After several test drops onto a field, they were assured that the design would work.

Thus, beavers rained down over Idaho. The beaver relocation project lasted until 1948. Those beavers’ descendants now live in what is part of the largest protected roadless forest in the lower 48 states.

A small plane leaves the area as 2 parachutes holding wooden boxes fall toward a forested mountain.
Idaho Fish and Game relocated beavers in the 1940s using parachutes to drop them into remote areas. Image via Idaho Fish and Game/ NPR.

Satellite evidence of lusher lands

In the Baugh Creek area of Idaho southeast of Sun Valley, the positive impact that beavers have had on the ecosystem is visible from space. The beavers there have been busy as … well, beavers … creating dams and flooding the surrounding landscape. When you compare an area of the creek where beavers made their homes compared to a nearby creek without beavers, the difference is clear. The beaver areas are more verdant, with wider swaths of plant life.

A green and brown landscape from above with labels pointing out thicker green areas by beaver dams.
This aerial view of the Baugh Creek area shows how the area with beaver dams is more lush and green than a neighboring area without beaver dams. The Landsat 9 satellite acquired this image on June 24, 2022. Image via NASA.

Trial by fire

Then, in 2018, the Sharps Fire burned more than 60,000 acres in the Baugh Creek area. But imagery from after the fire showed that the lush, moist areas around beaver dams were resilient against the flames.

Now NASA is working with researchers who are attempting to restore beavers in ecosystems throughout the West. You can learn more about their work in this video.

Maybe someday soon beavers will be parachuting into an area near you to help restore the ecosystem.

Beavers: A burn-scarred mountainous area with the valley showing green around a blue creek.
The Baugh Creek area that was flooded by beaver dams survived the Sharps Fire of 2018 better than surrounding areas. Image via NASA Earth Observatory/ Fairfax/ Whittle.

Bottom line: NASA satellite imagery showed that a creek in Idaho where beavers built dams was lusher, greener, and more fire-resistant than neighboring areas without beaver dams.

Source: Smokey the Beaver: beaver-dammed riparian corridors stay green during wildfire throughout the western United States


Via Boise State Public Radio

Read more: Why super-sized beavers went extinct

July 30, 2023

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Kelly Kizer Whitt

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