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Fish and Game takes new approach to reduce Magic Valley elk population

Seven elk found dead near Table Rock
Posted at 4:07 PM, Jun 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 18:09:45-04

ELMORE COUNTY, Idaho — Elk depredation has been a huge issue in the Magic Valley, but starting this summer, Idaho Fish and Game says they're taking a new approach to deal with it.

Idaho Fish and Game say there are too many elk in the Magic Valley, and all those elk are causing farmers major headaches.

"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."

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. This summer, they plan to take those efforts a step further.

Full details of the plan have not yet been released, but Fish and Game say they plan to use four management tools to help reduce depredation:

  • Non-lethal hazing to deter elk from entering private property and depredating on crops.
  • Nighttime sharp shooting of antlerless elk by department staff to change elk behavior and reduce herd size.
  • Managed hunting by hunters with Game Management Unit 44 antlerless tags and depredation tags on adjacent private property to change elk behavior and reduce herd size.
  • Fall and spring trap and translocation to reduce the size of the depredating elk herd.

"We'll go in and basically we'll harass, scare, and haze elk to try to get them to leave the area," explained McDonald.

If that doesn't work, Fish and game will resort to lethal options.

"That can occur in any number of ways. The preferred option is always to use hunters," said McDonald. "We're going to try to work with the private landowners in the area to secure some public access for sportsmen, for hunters, to access some of this property to hunt these elk."

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.