Friday, July 1, 2005

Fish & Game: Be aware of wildlife

Agency warns that careless behavior can harm animals

Express Staff Writer

A young mule deer buck, sometimes called a "bachelor in velvet" for its velvety antlers, scopes his territory near Stanley Lake, in Custer County. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is asking people to take special care this summer around deer fawns and other wildlife. Photo by David N. Seelig

Hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts should enjoy Idaho's bountiful public lands this summer, but should be careful to avoid encounters with certain species of wildlife, the Idaho Fish and Game Department announced.

In separate news releases, Fish and Game said people should not touch or move baby animals they find in the field and should also take precautions not to attract animals into their yards, campsites or neighborhoods.

In addition, Kelton Hatch, Fish and Game regional conservation educator, said Wednesday that people venturing into the outdoors this summer should take special precautions not to wind up in a direct confrontation with two majestic but potentially dangerous animals, moose and black bears.

Baby animals found in the wild should never be approached, handled or relocated, Fish and Game said.

In early summer, baby deer, elk and antelope born in late spring might be left alone by their mothers as they venture off to forage. If mothers return to find people near their offspring, they will often leave the area and come back later, sometimes to find their baby has been taken away to be "rescued."

"We have people calling us or bringing in baby animals to the office every year," said Randy Smith, regional wildlife manager for the Magic Valley Region. "Even though their intentions are good, it isn't the best things for the animals."

Smith said if young animals are brought to Fish and Game, the agency has two options, neither of which is good.

"We can attempt to return them to the wild, which seldom works because the animal is too young to survive on its own," he said. "The second choice is to place them in a zoo. Either way, the animal is generally removed from the wild, forever."

Smith noted that it is illegal for people to be in possession of a wild animal. Those who do so can be issued a citation and the animal will be removed from their control.

"Smaller animals, like rabbits and songbirds, should also be left alone," Fish and Game officers noted. "In nature, mother knows best."

People should also take simple precautions to avoid attracting wild animals into their property or campsites, Fish and Game said.

Skunks, raccoons, bears, foxes and coyotes can become nuisances if trash and food aren't handled correctly. To prevent attracting the animals, people should:

· Store all garbage at home in a secure area and dispose of it regularly. Don't leave pet food outside.

· Keep a clean campsite, well away from cooking and food-storage areas. Hang food supplies in trees to keep them out of reach of bears.

· At home, delay putting out garbage cans until the morning of pickup. Also, hang bird feeders out of reach of bears, or put them away until the fall.

To prevent backcountry encounters with bears or moose, other precautions should be taken, Hatch said.

Of moose, he said people should be especially vigilant about staying away from the animals this time of year because calves that were born this spring are exploring natural areas in the company of their protective mothers.

Moose, which are often found in riparian areas along the Big Wood River and other regional waterways, can become aggressive if they are startled, cornered or confronted by a dog.

People "should use extreme caution" when they see a moose, give a wide berth when passing them and should keep their dogs away from areas known to be moose habitat, Hatch said.

Of bears, Fish and Game officials said following a few simple rules will greatly reduce the chances of a potentially dangerous encounter.

Despite the attraction of seeing an adult bear or bear cub up close, people should never approach the animals. While hiking, make noise, travel in groups during daylight hours, stay on established trails and try to avoid taking pets into known bear habitat.

Some bears that are now in the high country foraging in verdant, green areas will eventually come to lower elevations as hotter, dryer weather sets in and dries up the landscape, Hatch said. So, despite the spring rains, people in Ketchum and other areas should still take precautions.

For all visits into the backcountry, Hatch said, people should "pack out what you pack in and try to leave things clean for the next person who comes in."

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