TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Elk depredation is an expensive problem.
In 2018, in excess of $1 million was paid for damages caused by elk, according to the Fish and Game Website.
In 2019, because of intensive prevention efforts, including hazing, hunting, and sharpshooting to mitigate elk damage, crop damages were down nearly 75% from the previous year. That’s a reduction of over $750,000 worth of damage.
So what exactly is depredation? McDonald says it's any damage the elk cause to private property--including crops, livestock, nurseries, and even beehives.
Depredation isn't a new problem. Fish and Game has been working to stop it for years now, but it's been made worse by skyrocketing elk populations in the area.
Fish and Game has worked since 2017 with a producer in the Little Camas area to prevent and reduce crop damage by elk. At times, this elk herd has exceeded 450 animals, the website says.
"We have more elk than we've ever had," explained Mike McDonald, Regional Wildlife Manager with Fish and Game. "We have some really good habitat on private property--irrigated agriculture in particular."
This summer, they plan to take those efforts a step further using four management tools:
- Initially, Fish and Game staff will aggressively use non-lethal hazing to deter elk from using the organic farm and depredating on their crops. Hazing techniques include noise and non-lethal rubber slugs and rubber buckshot.
- In the event nonlethal hazing becomes ineffective, Fish and Game staff will harvest elk at night on the farm. Nighttime shooting has become necessary due to elk feeding exclusively during the night, which limits the opportunity to use hunters to pursue elk. Over the last few years, elk were largely inaccessible during the day.
- In the event elk become accessible during daytime, Fish and Game will work with neighboring landowners to secure access for hunting. Hunters who possess Game Management Unit 44 antlerless tags and depredation tags would be eligible through a random drawing. Fish and Game staff will be onsite to manage all hunting activity.
- In midfall of 2020 and early spring 2021, Fish and Game will begin a trapping and translocation effort to continue reducing the size of the depredating elk herd. All elk will be tested for disease following state and federal protocols prior to release in other areas of the state
All elk taken by sharpshooters will be field-dressed and frozen on-site, according to Fish and Game. All meat will be processed locally and distributed by Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry to area food pantries for feeding Idahoans in need.
When deer, pronghorn antelope or elk damage crops, hunters and anglers pay the price. In 1990, the Idaho Legislature mandated that Fish and Game compensate farmers for damage.
Idaho News 6 reported back in January every deer and elk permit includes a fee for depredation, and in may of 2017, with depredation payouts increasing, the legislature approved another fee.
Fish and Game also started a research project with the University of Idaho, hoping to find effective ways to reduce crop damage. Earlier this year, that project had huge backlash via the internet when photos of butchered elk appeared on Facebook.
As part of the research project, Fish and Game sharpshooters dispatched at night when elk were moving into farmland to feed. The sharpshooters killed 206 elk, mostly in the Magic Valley Region.
"We have employed department sharpshooters to try to implement that component by removing a small number of elk at a time to try to teach those elk not to come into the crops," said State Wildlife Manager Jon Rachel.
What about the meat from those 206 elk? A Facebook post by Idaho for Wildlife made earlier this year initially claimed that because many of the elk were taken in summer, the meat rotted.
"Yeah, that couldn't be further from the truth," said McDonald.
McDonald says those elk were immediately field-dressed, placed in a refrigerated truck and taken to a processor where they were butchered and distributed to nine food banks.
Idaho for Wildlife has since removed that claim from their post.
The first draft of that study has been completed, and Fish and Game says it should be made available later this summer.
Fish and Game says they are open to feedback and are more than happy to answer any questions the public may have. Just give them a call at (208) 324-4359.