Friday, December 17, 2010

Skiers stress wintering elk

Warm Springs closure imminent

Elk forage for food near Ketchum last winter. Forest Service officials say backcountry recreationists should avoid elk if they come across them, as elk need to conserve energy to survive the winter.

Elk are moving into their winter ranges in the Wood River Valley, and the best thing to do is let them be, state officials say.

The Ketchum Ranger District and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game stated in a news release Tuesday that hikers and skiers should avoid proximity to elk if at all possible throughout the winter season.

Contact with humans can place undue stress on the animals, which need all their energy reserves to survive the winter.

"It's a problem. It's always a problem," said Julie Thomas, spokeswoman for the Sawtooth National Forest.

Thomas said the concern is not so much for locals, who are generally used to wildlife.

"The problem is when people start coming into the valley for Christmas," she said. "They just don't understand."

Thomas said rangers in the North Valley have seen tracks from skiers who were obviously trying to get closer to wintering elk.

As in past winters, the Forest Service plans to prohibit public access to national forest land in the Warm Springs drainage north of Warm Springs Road between Ketchum and the West Fork of Warm Springs Creek. Signs will be placed there, but no date has yet been set.

"This could happen any day, so be cognizant," Thomas said.

She urged skiers to call the Ketchum Ranger District at 622-5371 before heading into the drainage.

In addition, as elk move into their winter ranges, valley residents are likely to see them closer to backyards and closer to the highway.

"They're coming into the valley, so motorists should be careful," Thomas said.

Residents of the valley have been known to feed elk, as the animals do have greater difficulty foraging as snow levels get deeper. However, the Department of Fish and Game generally discourages the feeding of any wild animals.

Katherine Wutz:

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