Friday 17 March 2023


When in 1973 I up-stakes and left the stable country where I was born, included in my essential kit was a) a box of books, including at least one banned at the time b) a ratty old fur coat constructed from many dead muskrats Ondatra zibethicus. Five years later we left Ireland again as part of the Great 1980s Diaspora and didn't return until 1990. We left some of our accumulated rommel with Pat the Salt and he did me and the planet a great favour by dumping the coat and some other shite when he in turn was next on the move.  Even as late as the 1970s (80s? 90s?) fur was widely seen as a resource for fashionable and well-to-do people to purchase and wear about their person eeeuw?! Mink Mustela neovison is indeed still farmed for  the fur-trade as we found out when a Covid-mandated cull of 17 million mink was implemented in Denmark in 2020.

I don't believe that many would hold a torch for mink, an alien invasive species in Ireland. They are widely distributed escapees from fur-farms and make aggressive depredations on rodents, frogs, crayfish, ducks and chickens. Beavers Castor canadensis US & Castor fiber EU might be another matter, though? They are completely unrelated to mink and ermine Mustela erminea being exceptionally large rodents subsisting on a strictly vegetarian diet. They have recently been re-introduced in England and may have a role in flood-control because their dams impede water run-off and so dissipate the energy of storm water. I'd be happy enough if a couple of pair set up home above us on the R. Aughnabriskey which can get super fiesty during the Winter flood season - ripping willow Salix and alder Alnus from the bank as it roars past our property.

In 1948, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game was hard at work transporting beaver from where they were too close to human habitation - and that zone of human habitation / industry / agriculture was steadily increasing as GIs returned from WWII and wanted a piece of the good life. The IDFG recognised that beaver had value - but just get them the heck away from Lewiston and Idaho Falls where they were a nuisance. An adult beaver weighs 20kg - about the same as a feed-sack of sheep muesli - so "transporting" a pair of beaver from a remote stream near Moscow, ID to an even remoter stream in the back-country could be a logical days work. Carrying a pair [propagating here folks] of beavers would require a mule and a mule-stringer and probably a IDFG scientist to supervise the release in suitable habitat. That is 2 person-day's work even excluding the transport to the head of the mule-trail whither a truck could add some economies of scale.

But 1948 was an interesting time to be in. Ford and Willys-Overland had, for example, produced 640,000 jeeps - most of which survived the war intact and many hadn't even been shipped abroad. Many were transferred to the USPS for rural postal routes; but jeeps were also repurposed as farm vehicles: trailer-hauling, ploughing, sowing spuds; and in Glengarriff as a runabout for two middle aged lesbians.

There were also a helluva lot of army surplus parachutes and Elmo Heter, working for the IDFG, invented a crate which could fit two beavers slung beneath a small parachute. The device had a cunning mechanism which secured the lid until it flipped open when the crate touched down. The intention was that Mr and Mrs Beaver would then head off down hill [as shown above] until they encountered a suitable stream and start one dam thing after another. The protocol is described in a contemporary propaganda film. National Geographic has more detail, including some guesstimates about the cost- benefit analysis. Beavers on golf courses are a pain in the hole and the most co$t effective solution is shooting  the poor creatures. But IDFG recognised that, with a more holistic worldview, the same beavers could, for $7 or $8 a head, be a landscape-shifting asset elsewhere in the state creating as much as $300 in added value. I like this story a lot because it's cool when someone's yuk is another person's yum.

1 comment:

  1. What happened if the crate failed to open on impact? Were they made of wood designed so that the happy couple could chew their way out of it before starving to death but having enjoyed extremely close-quartered nookie? I can visualise a Stephen King short story coming out of that. Was an IDFG boffin tasked to wander the drop off points, check the amount of opened boxes and dispose of the parachute and strings before they brought down a deer or trapped a small creature? I wonder how often people working for the IDFG crack and refers to them as the IDGF?