Friday, March 4, 2011

Hunting seasons deemed ‘on track’

Fish & Game says few changes are in store


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Big-game hunters won't notice much change in the proposed hunting seasons or rules for the Magic Valley region in 2011, state officials said Wednesday.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game sought public input on 2011 big-game seasons during an open house in Hailey on Wednesday in anticipation of the Fish and Game Commission's meeting at the end of the month.

Randy Smith, game manager for the department's Magic Valley Region, said that while some changes are proposed for elk and deer hunts in certain regions, most of them are minor adjustments.

"There's nothing major in our proposals," Smith said. "Everything looks like it's kind of on track."

The biggest changes are to the Unit 53 deer archery season and to elk seasons in the South Hill-Owyhee zone. Smith said much of the hunting area in Unit 53 has burned, destroying sagebrush habitat. As the deer in this region must migrate from the Pioneers and survive off fat reserves in what is now a significantly less hospitable area, the department is proposing limiting hunts in that region to reduce stress on the herds.

"We just shouldn't be disturbing them so close to winter," Smith said.

The department has offered two options: one unlimited controlled hunt during September, October, November and part of December, or one general season through September followed by a short unlimited controlled hunt from Nov. 25 to Dec. 19.

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Smith said both options would allow hunters who are dedicated to that area to hunt it while reducing pressure on shrinking herds.

"It'll allow the people who really love that area to be able to do that," he said.

So far, he said, public input had favored the longer controlled season, but the department was open to other suggestions as well.

But as stresses on deer are reduced, the department would open up more elk-hunting seasons. New controlled any-weapon hunts would be opened in units 46, 47, 54, 55 and 57 in southern Idaho, with start dates ranging from Oct. 15 to Dec. 5 and lasting until Dec. 31 in some areas.

The proposal also changes the length of existing hunts in units 54, 55 and 57 to remain consistent with the new seasons.

Smith said the hunt changes stem from to the increase in the numbers of elk migrating into the state from northern Nevada.

Smith said the 2007 Murphy Complex Fire in southern Idaho created good elk habitat, and that increasing numbers of reintroduced elk in Nevada have been migrating into southern Idaho to take advantage of the new grasslands.

The Department of Fish and Game is still accepting public comment on the proposed changes. Hunters can visit the department's website, http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/apps/11bgProp and comment on the plan through March 14. Smith said the department is still open to changing any of its proposals.

"We're not locked into any of these," he said. "We're all ears."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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