Idaho hunters eagerly awaiting their chance to pursue deer or elk in the glorious high country of big game Unit 48 can breathe easy.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game doesn't have plans to institute closures this fall in the aftermath of the Castle Rock Fire, said Magic Valley Regional Manager Dave Parrish.
"We are not going to modify our seasons or bag limits at the present time," Parrish said.
He said that while the fire did burn across a large area, significant stretches of Unit 48 remain undisturbed.
"There's still a large portion of the unit that did not burn," Parrish said.
Unit 48 covers a large portion of the eastern Smoky Mountains, stretching from Galena Summit south to Ketchum on both sides of state Highway 75 within the Big Wood River drainage. To the south of Ketchum, the unit further extends west from Highway 75 to the Blaine County line and south to U.S. Highway 20.
Parrish said Fish and Game officials are concerned with the amount of big-game winter range burned inside the perimeter of the fire. Those areas include significant elk range on south-facing slopes in the Warm Springs Creek and Greenhorn Gulch drainages, to the north and south of Ketchum respectively.
Parrish said that in light of this loss of crucial wintering habitat, Fish and Game may consider altering Unit 48 hunts later this fall, perhaps in November. He said the area may simply be unable to support the number of elk now inhabiting the region.
"We may have additional hunts to reduce the (number of) animals in that area," he said.
Parrish said the population reduction would only be temporary, however. He said herds of big game will be allowed to rebound once forage in the Castle Rock Fire area begins to grow back in the coming years.
Parrish said a decision about whether to extend or modify in some other way the Unit 48 hunt will likely happen by mid- to late-October.
"We'll consider what kind of condition the animals are in going into the winter," he said.
Parrish said Fish and Game will try to keep elk from wintering in the lowest sections of the Warm Springs Creek drainage in and around Ketchum by feeding them at the agency's Bullwhacker feed site, which it has maintained for more than 30 years. The feed site, which is immediately north of Warm Springs Road between Ketchum and Frenchman's Bend, wasn't burned by the fire, he said.
"We will be ready to feed as many elk as we can to hold them higher up in the drainage," Parrish said.