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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 14 - 20, 2004


Deer and elk head to valleys for shelter

Winter not as hard on
animals as some might think

"Animals, basically, aren’t hurting. They’re in good shape."

ROGER OLSON,Idaho Department of Fish and Game conservation officer

Express Staff Writer

With the arrival of heavy snow in Central Idaho last week, the region’s wild animals are streaming down to the relative shelter of valley floors and the rolling desert.

Elk are flocking to private and public feed sites, as well as into subdivisions and cities with lush vegetation fit for eating. Deer are migrating south to the Snake River Plain.

And as they have for centuries, mountain lions and other predators are following the ungulates into the valleys.

To help the animals survive the deep snow and to mitigate the effects of their presence on the valley floor, a number of public lands closures have been implemented and feeding operations instituted. The Wood River Land Trust is trumpeting some of its protected land as a sanctuary for the wintering animals.

But the winter so far has not put the animals in dire straits, said Idaho Department of Fish and Game Conservation Officer Roger Olson.

"Animals, basically, aren’t hurting," Olson said. "They’re in good shape. They were in great shape going into the winter. The fat reserves measured on deer going through hunting season check stations was good, better than in previous years."

Among local deer populations, last week’s storm caused a panic that drove them south, Olson said. Though the winter weather doesn’t pose an imminent threat, the migration into areas where humans have developed the animals’ traditional winter range does.

At least 85 deer and elk have drowned in the last week after breaking through the ice covering Lucky Peak Reservoir near Boise. The animals fell through while attempting to cross the lake to escape higher, heavier snows and to find food in the lower elevations south toward Boise, according to Fish and Game Regional biologist Jerry Scholten.

Closer to home, 17 deer were hit and killed Thursday, Jan. 15 ,by a train east of Dietrich, Fish and Game reported. The kill came just four days after 58 deer were killed on the same railroad tracks.

Fish and Game Regional Conservation Educator Kelton Hatch said the agency is contacting Union Pacific Railroad officials to see if snow can be bladed away from the tracks to offer migrating big game an alternate traveling route.

The deer seek refuge on the tracks from deep snow, he said.

To help mitigate the impact of people on wintering wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service implement annual closures of key wintering areas.

"During the winter, harassment of wildlife on historical winter ranges can quickly deplete their energy reserves," said Bill Baker, BLM Shoshone Fieled Office manager. "They have a difficult enough time trying to live through these tough winter conditions, so we need to eliminate any further stress on wildlife from disturbance or harassment by motorized and non-motorized recreationists."

Each winter, the BLM closes six local areas from Dec. 1 to April 30. (See map on this page) The Forest Service’s closure of south-facing slopes in Warm Springs canyon is implemented as snow dictates.

Looking at the issue from another angle, the Wood River Land Trust said last week that deer and elk are frequenting a number of properties on which it has obtained conservation easements. On Wednesday, Jan. 14, 16 elk milled around on the east side of Highway 75 just south of East Fork Road.

One of the properties the animals were on was recently protected through a partnership between local landowners, Blaine County and the land trust.

Nancy Schauer, who was involved with the easement process, watched the elk move through.

"I love seeing wildlife right in our midst," she said. "My husband and I were so excited to see the elk crossing the river, cutting through our yard and grazing on the easement property."

Elk, however, are not the only species using protected lands in the area, according to Dan Gilmore, land trust communications director. Moose, bald eagles and mountain lions have also taken up refuge in the towering cottonwoods along the Big Wood River.

In fact, a mountain lion was discovered at a Hailey home on Tuesday, Jan. 6, when it took up residence at the front door. The 2- to 3-year-old female was in "incredibly poor shape," Olson said.

"When it would stand up and move around, we could see that the whole back half of the animal had atrophied," he continued. "You could see the backbone and all of its ribs, practically."

Olson said Fish and Game officers euthanized the lion because of its poor body condition.

"If it had been healthy, it would not have been doing what it was doing," Olson said. "Healthy mountain lions do cruise through neighborhoods looking for deer, elk, dogs, cats, whatever they can find. Healthy mountain lions do not stand looking into someone’s living room letting someone look at it for 20 minutes."

Though Olson said deer and elk are doing well so far this winter, Lawrence Kimball, part owner of Warm Springs Sleighs, said the elk he helps feed on the Warm Springs Golf Course in Ketchum need more food to make it through the winter.



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