The owners of the Warm Springs Ranch property north of downtown Ketchum took measures this week to counter complaints that they are not feeding a herd of elk that frequents the site.
In a press release issued Tuesday, Jan. 25, representatives of the development group Sun Valley Ventures reiterated previous statements that they are not feeding elk at the property because Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials have told them not to.
The press release confirms previous statements by Fish and Game leaders that they do not want anyone to feed wild elk—at Warm Springs Ranch or anywhere else—because doing so lures the animals away from their natural winter ranges, threatening their long-term health.
In addition, it confirms statements by regional Fish and Game officials that they are following a strategy for managing the elk that might eventually call for trapping and transplanting some of the herd.
At issue is the future of some 100 elk that have been congregating each winter on the golf course of the 77-acre Warm Springs Ranch.
Area residents, including some affiliated with an organization called the Wood River Elk Trust, have been feeding the elk during the winter months for numerous years. Some believe development has displaced the animals from their historic winter ranges, prompting a need for human intervention.
Last week, during a public hearing to review a plan to redevelop Warm Springs Ranch, some Ketchum residents expressed serious concerns that the elk are not being fed.
Sun Valley Ventures, which took title to the Warm Springs Ranch property in 2003, has this winter discouraged feeding the local herd. The group maintains that it must cooperate with Fish and Game to follow the agency's policy that elk should be fed only during extreme weather conditions in carefully selected areas.
The press release states: "The objectives of the Sun Valley Ventures and Fish and Game strategy include a reduction of the artificially high number of elk using the ranch due to past feeding operations.
"Given the lack of unavailable suitable winter habitat in Warm Springs ... Idaho Fish and Game, in concert with Sun Valley Ventures, plans to reduce the number of wintering elk by trapping and transplanting over half of the elk that were historically fed on the golf course."
The plan, Sun Valley Ventures notes, calls for relocating the cows to new winter ranges distant from the Wood River Valley, while bulls and calves would be relocated in the upper section of the Warm Springs Valley or the southern Wood River Valley.
"The remaining elk herd would be managed at a level that could be naturally supported on the south slopes of Warm Springs," the press release states.
Kelton Hatch, regional Fish and Game spokesman, confirmed that the agency believes the Warm Springs area has enough winter habitat to support only "40 or 50 elk."
Randy Smith, Fish and Game wildlife population manager, said the feeding of elk at Warm Springs Ranch has occurred more for "spectator amusement" than to prevent animals from starving.
"They are present in large numbers only because of past human-supplied food availability, and this concentration creates many problems, ranging from neighborhood private property damage to the spread of disease within the herd."
Smith said Fish and Game intended to relocate some of the Warm Springs elk this winter but has since decided to wait. If the animals return to the Warm Springs Ranch neighborhood next year, the agency will likely commence the relocation effort then, with costs shared by Sun Valley Ventures, he said.