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GPS collars help Idaho Fish and Game track deer and elk populations

Posted at 12:09 AM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-31 20:41:49-05

IDAHO — Idaho Fish and Game is using GPS collars to track deer and elk populations to help them better understand migrations, predation, and if any action needs to be taken to help these populations.

“It allows us to determine what management actions are necessary to manage that population effectively,” said Rick Ward, IDFG Deer, and Elk Coordinator.

They can set the collars to ping them as many times a day as they want, as well as detect when one of the animals have died.

"We will actually get an email when that mortality sensor is tripped, and biologists go out and within 24 hours of getting that signal and in many cases can determine why that animal died and what killed it,” said Ward.

Which has shown throughout the years predation has changed.

Wolves used to be a big problem for elk populations, but in some places, that is no longer the case.

“In some places and not everywhere, we have seen that shift now where predation is less of an overall effect or factor in the population," said Ward. "So we are growing elk populations here, but the predation we are seeing the majority of it is mountain lion, not wolf.”

The collars also help with elk depredation.

“We started putting collars on some of these chronic depredation areas trying to get a better idea of where these elk are at during hunting season, so we can have hunters get that opportunity and steer people in those directions," said Ward. "We are trying to deal with it before it becomes a problem.”

IDFG tracks the animals in real-time, which helps private and farmlands.

“We contact the landowner and say, 'OK, we are coming and bringing fencing material or paneling or whatever because the elk are moving in your direction," said Ward.

But their most important use is to make sure we have healthy and thriving deer and elk populations.

The collars help IDFG build data sets so that they can understand the animal's patterns.

"During the winter of 2016-17, every fawn and calf that we had a collar on in Southern Idaho, I mean not every single one but most of them died and that is not a surprise," said Ward. "And then the opposite of that was this past winter where we had above average fawn and calf survival.”

That fawn survival rate was 62 percent, something that Ward said was the highest it has been in a long time.

The collars and the data sets they have built IDFG can predict fawn and calf survival based on weather.