If you want to see what's happening on the ground, sometimes it is best to go up in the air.
Idaho wildlife managers spend hours in helicopters assessing game populations, especially deer and elk.
Every year Idaho Department of Fish and Game spends a half million dollars for the bird's eye view. It's expensive, and it put employees at risk.
"We wanted to reduce the amount of time our employees spend in helicopters," said Deer and Elk Coordinator Daryl Meints.
And in some parts of Idaho it just won't work. "In north Idaho, given the dense vegetation that's found up there, it's impractical to use a helicopter up there to count their deer and elk," said Meints.
In those places, Fish and Game has launched a new program, using a tool already employed by many hunters: trail cameras, 450 cameras, each taking a photo anytime something moves in front of it. They are also programmed to snap a shot every ten minutes. If you do the math, that comes to nearly two million photos per month.
Technicians will use software to narrow that number down to the photos that actually show animals, and they will use that information to manage the herds.
"And this is going to give us an opportunity to assess all wildlife. Anything that moves in front of these camera, we're going to get a picture of," said Meints.
Meints says in extreme north Idaho, where dense vegetation makes helicopter surveys virtually impossible, the cameras will provide data for the first population and sex ratio estimates ever. "We can get an assessment then of the male segment of the population, which sportsmen care a lot about."
And he says the $157,000 camera network will be well worth the investment. "From a cost/benefit analysis ratio, in the long run, yeah, we're hoping to get a tremendous amount of information from these cameras that's going to be far cheaper and far safer, and in some cases probably much better than what we can get from a helicopter."
Fish and Game will retrieve the cameras as soon as enough snow melts to reach them.