Wednesday, January 25, 2006

27 elk captured at golf course

IDFG moves part of Warm Springs herd out of area

Express Staff Writer

A silvery crescent moon cast a subtle glow over the lower timbered slopes of Bald Mountain and the Warm Springs Golf Course early Monday morning. Nearby, about 20 Idaho Department of Fish and Game employees huddled in the warmth of the golf course clubhouse discussing the day's unfolding events.

Their plan: to capture between 25 and 30 elk in a corral-style enclosure erected for a trap and transplant operation. The elk are part of a larger herd numbering between 85 and 100 that currently inhabits the golf course.

In anticipation of the trapping operation, IDFG employees recently set up a temporary feeding station on the 77-acre Warm Springs Ranch property, owned by development group Sun Valley Ventures. Up until last winter, elk had been fed on the Warm Springs Golf Course for more than 20 years.

Months of meticulous planning essentially came down to the actions of two local conservation officers—Roger Olson and Lee Garwood—to put the department's well-laid plans into motion.

When it was all said and done, 28 elk—14 cows and 14 calves—were drawn into the corral by the promise of a meal of alfalfa hay and pellets. Hidden in a pickup truck a mere 35 yards away, it was the moment Olson and Garwood had been waiting for.

With a simple tug on a rope, the corral's door slammed shut.

Olson said he closed the door when one of the herd's bull elk came within a short distance of entering the enclosure. IDFG has decided not to trap any of the bulls, he said. "We could count them as they (the cows and calves) went in. We knew how many cows and how many calves had gone in," Olson said.

Once the elk calmed down, the remaining IDFG employees joined Olson and Garwood at the corral to begin the lengthy and arduous task of processing them. In groups of four, the elk were herded into sweep boxes similar to those used for cattle. There, IDFG employees took blood tests, placed ear tags on the elk and herded them into the waiting trailers.

One cow wasn't having any of it, however. In a remarkable display of ungulate athleticism, the cow made a successful jump for freedom over the corral's more than eight-foot-high walls and rejoined the rest of the herd.

All of the 27 remaining elk were processed by mid-afternoon. "It went great," said Randy Smith, Idaho Fish and Game manager for the Magic Valley region. "We got everything processed without incident."

Later in the day, IDFG released nine of the calves at the department's Bullwhacker feed site located farther up Warm Springs Creek. IDFG established the Bullwhacker site in 1980 to encourage elk to remain further up Warm Springs and not in residential Ketchum.

The remaining five calves and 13 cows were taken to a more remote site out on the sagebrush flats near Beartrap Cave, 15 miles north of Minidoka.

"They stopped just 50 yards from the trailer and began to eat," Smith said of the elk at Minidoka.

No elk or elk handlers were injured during the operation, Smith said. None of the elk tested positive for brucellosis, either, much to Fish and Game's relief, he said.

IDFG brought in veterinarians from the Caldwell wildlife lab to conduct the brucellosis testing. Julie Mulholland, a wildlife health technologist from the Caldwell lab, said a standard plate test was used to see if any of the elk have been exposed to the infectious bacterial disease. She said elk that are exposed to the disease are euthanized.

Time permitting, IDFG officials hope to conduct at least one and possibly two more similar trapping operations. Any bull elk that are captured will be tranquilized and have their antlers removed as an added safety measure against other elk being gored in the trap or while being transported in the trailers.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game Regional Supervisor Dave Parrish said the Warm Springs elk appear to be quite healthy. He said none of the elk have protruding ribs or hipbones. "That indicates they're still in pretty good shape," Parrish said.

Since being reintroduced into the area in the mid-1930s, the elk herd in the Wood River drainage has grown to the point that IDFG now estimates they number approximately 2,400.

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