Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Close the zoo

While the proposed $200 million development of the 77-acre Warm Springs Ranch just north of downtown Ketchum is still a matter of heated debate, one issue that can and should be resolved now is the fate of the 100 or so elk that congregate there each winter.

For the past 14 winters, the Wood River Elk Trust, against the recommendation of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, has been feeding elk on the west end of the property.

Most people would likely agree it is fun to see wildlife near where they live. The situation at Warm Springs, however, is more akin to a zoo than any kind of wildlife experience. The feeding, which the Elk Trust has wisely suspended this year, has consistently brought elk down to an area where they would not otherwise congregate. It makes them much more susceptible to predation and disease.

With the suspension of feeding, the number of elk in the Warm Springs Ranch area has dropped to about 20. The majority has moved on to greener pastures, of sorts. The elk learn quickly. We should, too.

Now is the time for the Fish and Game to relocate the remaining elk. It is estimated that relocation would run about $100,000, a cost the developers, Sun Valley Ventures, should help pay.

The other option being considered by Fish and Game is to target the elk for hunting, which seems wrong given that they have been led to the hay for the last 14 years. Unless, of course, the alternative is starvation.

The Warm Springs Ranch will either be developed by Sun Valley Ventures, or if denied approval, will likely become single- family home sites. It certainly won't become a protected natural habitat for elk.

Now is the time for Fish and Game to do what's right for the elk in the long run.

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