Deer and elk head to valleys for
Winter not as hard on
animals as some might think
"Animals, basically, aren’t hurting.
They’re in good shape."
— ROGER OLSON,Idaho Department of
Fish and Game conservation officer
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
With the arrival of heavy snow in Central
Idaho last week, the region’s wild animals are streaming down to the relative
shelter of valley floors and the rolling desert.
Elk are flocking to private and public
feed sites, as well as into subdivisions and cities with lush vegetation fit for
eating. Deer are migrating south to the Snake River Plain.
And as they have for centuries, mountain
lions and other predators are following the ungulates into the valleys.
To help the animals survive the deep snow
and to mitigate the effects of their presence on the valley floor, a number of
public lands closures have been implemented and feeding operations instituted.
The Wood River Land Trust is trumpeting some of its protected land as a
sanctuary for the wintering animals.
But the winter so far has not put the
animals in dire straits, said Idaho Department of Fish and Game Conservation
Officer Roger Olson.
"Animals, basically, aren’t hurting,"
Olson said. "They’re in good shape. They were in great shape going into the
winter. The fat reserves measured on deer going through hunting season check
stations was good, better than in previous years."
Among local deer populations, last week’s
storm caused a panic that drove them south, Olson said. Though the winter
weather doesn’t pose an imminent threat, the migration into areas where humans
have developed the animals’ traditional winter range does.
At least 85 deer and elk have drowned in
the last week after breaking through the ice covering Lucky Peak Reservoir near
Boise. The animals fell through while attempting to cross the lake to escape
higher, heavier snows and to find food in the lower elevations south toward
Boise, according to Fish and Game Regional biologist Jerry Scholten.
Closer to home, 17 deer were hit and
killed Thursday, Jan. 15 ,by a train east of Dietrich, Fish and Game reported.
The kill came just four days after 58 deer were killed on the same railroad
Fish and Game Regional Conservation
Educator Kelton Hatch said the agency is contacting Union Pacific Railroad
officials to see if snow can be bladed away from the tracks to offer migrating
big game an alternate traveling route.
The deer seek refuge on the tracks from
deep snow, he said.
To help mitigate the impact of people on
wintering wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service
implement annual closures of key wintering areas.
"During the winter, harassment of wildlife
on historical winter ranges can quickly deplete their energy reserves," said
Bill Baker, BLM Shoshone Fieled Office manager. "They have a difficult enough
time trying to live through these tough winter conditions, so we need to
eliminate any further stress on wildlife from disturbance or harassment by
motorized and non-motorized recreationists."
Each winter, the BLM closes six local
areas from Dec. 1 to April 30. (See map on this page) The Forest Service’s
closure of south-facing slopes in Warm Springs canyon is implemented as snow
Looking at the issue from another angle,
the Wood River Land Trust said last week that deer and elk are frequenting a
number of properties on which it has obtained conservation easements. On
Wednesday, Jan. 14, 16 elk milled around on the east side of Highway 75 just
south of East Fork Road.
One of the properties the animals were on
was recently protected through a partnership between local landowners, Blaine
County and the land trust.
Nancy Schauer, who was involved with the
easement process, watched the elk move through.
"I love seeing wildlife right in our
midst," she said. "My husband and I were so excited to see the elk crossing the
river, cutting through our yard and grazing on the easement property."
Elk, however, are not the only species
using protected lands in the area, according to Dan Gilmore, land trust
communications director. Moose, bald eagles and mountain lions have also taken
up refuge in the towering cottonwoods along the Big Wood River.
In fact, a mountain lion was discovered at
a Hailey home on Tuesday, Jan. 6, when it took up residence at the front door.
The 2- to 3-year-old female was in "incredibly poor shape," Olson said.
"When it would stand up and move around,
we could see that the whole back half of the animal had atrophied," he
continued. "You could see the backbone and all of its ribs, practically."
Olson said Fish and Game officers
euthanized the lion because of its poor body condition.
"If it had been healthy, it would not have
been doing what it was doing," Olson said. "Healthy mountain lions do cruise
through neighborhoods looking for deer, elk, dogs, cats, whatever they can find.
Healthy mountain lions do not stand looking into someone’s living room letting
someone look at it for 20 minutes."
Though Olson said deer and elk are doing
well so far this winter, Lawrence Kimball, part owner of Warm Springs Sleighs,
said the elk he helps feed on the Warm Springs Golf Course in Ketchum need more
food to make it through the winter.