Wildlife officials start feeding elk in central Idaho

elk feeding
Posted at 2:33 PM, Dec 28, 2021
and last updated 2022-01-11 18:18:28-05

Idaho wildlife officials have started feeding elk west of Ketchum and Sun Valley in central Idaho to keep them out of populated areas.

The feeding is based on the amount of snow, temperatures and natural forage available.

More than 40 elk died at the site in the 2015-2016 winter, either killed by mountain lions, being trampled or starving. Fish and Game renovated the site, and deaths decreased.

“Elk did move down warm Springs to the Big Wood River. Historically, that was all winter range and some of that has now been replaced by development and any time we have situations where elk are in urban areas there’s potential for conflict,” said Mike McDonald, Magic Valley Regional Wildlife Manager for Idaho Fish and Game.

The site was started around 1950, and is the only commission approved feed site in Idaho.

“Bullwacker is a little bit unique in that the intent of the feed site is primarily not about elk survival but about keeping elk out of an urban area,” said McDonald

Over the last decade the site averages roughly 125 elk, which are fed compressed alfalfa pellets.

“We’ve got it set up where we can spread the elk out a little bit. We feed them in troughs to keep the food off the ground… it’s specially ordered food designed for elk,” said Sierra Robatcek, Magic Valley Regional Wildlife Biologist for Idaho Fish and Game.

What makes this year different is the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD was found in the Clearwater region of Idaho in the fall. The fatal neurological disease affects deer, elk and moose, and is causing concern among hunters and wildlife advocates. The disease is spread when these animals gather in large numbers.

“In states where Chronic Wasting Disease has been discovered, there is a lot of concern about how elk and deer feeding stations can help accelerate the spread of the disease,” said John Robison, Public Lands Director for the Idaho Conservation League.

Idaho Fish and Game are continuing to monitor conditions closely by collecting frequent samples from the animals.

“If we do detect CWD in the region or in that area then we’ll respond to it and assess how we are going to change or alter the way that we manage the Bullwacker feed site,” said Robatcek.