Friday, January 18, 2008

Biologists take to the skies

Idaho Department of Fish and Game to survey wintering elk next week

Express Staff Writer

Wildlife biologists with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game?s Magic Valley regional office in Jerome next week will take to the skies over the Wood River Valley to count wintering elk. The surveys help Fish and Game determine the health of local elk herds and to set future tag numbers and hunting seasons. Photo by Willy Cook

If you spot a helicopter flying low over the hills and mountains on the east side of the Wood River Valley next week, it's likely part of an Idaho Department of Fish and Game effort to count wintering elk there.

Over the course of about three to four days, Fish and Game biologists from the agency's Magic Valley regional office in Jerome will conduct the helicopter surveys to estimate the number of elk on the east side of the valley and in the Pioneer Mountains.

According to a Fish and Game news release, the flights help biologists get an accurate count of the number of animals in each group, as well as allow them to determine the number of cows, bulls and calves. The data will be used to gauge the status and trends of the area's elk herd, as well as to help assess potential changes to hunting permits and seasons.

Once back at the office, the data is crunched through an elk "sightability model" the agency uses, Fish and Game biologist Jon Rachael stated in a news release. Rachael said the computer model makes corrections for animals that were likely missed during the survey.

As an example, he said, single elk or small groups of elk bedded in thick cover are less likely to be seen during the flights than larger groups of moving elk in an area with little cover, especially if the ground is covered with snow.

Rachael said the outcome is an estimate of the number of elk in a given area surveyed.

"This population estimate, along with the ratio of bulls, cows and calves in the population, is then compared to the population objectives for the zone," he said. "This information, together with trends in hunter harvest in the zone, forms the basis for recommendations for hunting seasons in the coming years."

For more information about the survey, call the Jerome regional office at (208) 324-4359.

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