Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Snow spurs wildlife migrations

Wild neighbors return to valley floor as snows mount

Express Staff Writer

Elk have returned to the Warm Springs Golf Course where they traditionally have been fed. But, for the first time in years, elk will not be fed in Warm Springs this winter, and wildlife managers are hoping they will disperse to south-facing slopes above the canyon. Photo by Willy Cook

With the arrival of a heavier winter snowpack last week, the Wood River Valley's wild inhabitants descended to their traditional wintering habitats and to traditional feeding stations on the valley's floors.

In particular, elk and mule deer have made their annual migrations to lower elevations and in some instances people and the ungulates have a difficult time sharing the snow-covered land, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

That is one of the primary reasons the U.S. Forest Service will begin imposing a closure on the south-facing slopes in Warm Springs canyon on Thursday, Jan. 6.

"Deep snow is forcing elk down into the drainage bottoms in search of food and shelter," said Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson. "The presence of people in these areas causes the animals to move, expending energy and strength that they need to conserve to survive the winter."

An additional impact this year concerns a large number of elk that have been fed for consecutive years at the Warm Springs Golf Course. The elk will not be fed this year, and wildlife managers hope the animals will return to their traditional wintering areas on the canyon's south-facing slopes.

"It is especially important this year that these animals be allowed to find security and feed without being disturbed or turning to landscaping on private property," Nelson said.

Earlier this week, about 50 elk had congregated at the traditional feed site on Warm Springs Golf Course, but Idaho Department of Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lee Garwood said they were beginning to move toward the south slopes and "started spreading out like they should."

"It's typical for this time of year," Garwood said. "These bigger storms tend to drive our big game populations down toward the valley floor. We've got elk at all the traditional places, and we'll probably get more as it continues to snow more."

Garwood said the snowpack so far should not present too much of a challenge for wintering deer and elk.

"Right now the snow is light and fluffy. Thirty inches of snow is no big deal for them. They can browse around and feed just fine."

Additionally, Garwood said the fall and early winter seasons were very easy on Central Idaho's wild creatures.

"The big game are doing really well. Unless we get some enormous snows between now and the middle of March, they should come out of it just fine," he said.

Last week, Fish and Game's Magic Valley Region issued some general guidelines that could help local residents live in harmony with their wintering wild neighbors.

· Drive with caution. Look for eye reflections along roads. Travel at slower speeds. Pay attention to wildlife crossing signs along roadways. Wildlife often crosses roadways at the same locations year after year. The Idaho Department of Transportation has posted signs warning motorists of typical crossing locations.

· Store feed, hay and grain in a shed or building that makes it inaccessible to wildlife.

· Wrap shrubs with burlap or fences to keep wild animals from eating them.

· Do not feed wild animals when they show up in the backyard. If you feed one or two elk today, there is a good chance more will join them tomorrow. What starts as a well-intended handout often becomes an expensive and dangerous situation for both landowners and wild animals.

· Keep dogs kenneled or chained to keep them from harassing wildlife. If you live in mountain lion or wolf country, do not let your dogs run at-large.

· Keep a safe distance from wildlife.

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