With winter just around the corner, a wildlife official said the number of elk feeding sites in the Wood River Valley has been diminishing over the past few years.
“We used to have several private feed sites up there [in the valley],” Regional Wildlife Biologist Regan Berkley said. “There was one at Elkhorn, there had been one out Warm Springs … [but] many of those have terminated feeding.”
The Elkhorn feed site used to be near the Community School’s Sagewillow barn, maintained by the Wood River Elk Trust. That site was shut down in 2007, when the Sagewillow Homeowners Association sued the Community School and elk feeder Ed Dumke, claiming that the practice was “socially and environmentally unsound.” The practice had started in the late 1970s or early 1980s, but ended that year.
Despite an attempted resurgence in 2008 and 2009, the practice has ended.
Berkley said that, unfortunately, the elk still don’t seem to have gotten the message. There has been no decline in the number of elk that show up at the Sagewillow Barn in the winter, she said, and she expects this year to be no different.
“That herd was somewhere in the 90-elk range,” she said. “Over the course of the past few winters, we have seen up to that [number] moving around the Elkhorn area during the winter.”
Berkley said elk are also active in Gimlet, where some residents reported to the Idaho Mountain Express that a neighbor had installed a salt lick in a backyard.
“Elk occur naturally in Gimlet every year,” she said, adding that it’s not unheard of for residents to put salt licks in backyards because they like to see the elk herds.
“Just like any animal, they are looking for certain types of minerals and salt,” she said. “It does essentially the same thing that feeding does—it congregates animals in the same area.”
And that’s a problem, she said, as it results in damage to landscaping and increases the likelihood of elk-human conflicts—such as car accidents, especially in those sites near state Highway 75.
Berkley said the major sites remaining are one south of Bellevue and one out Timber Gulch south of East Fork Road. Both sites started as places where 60 elk would congregate. Now, she said, each has more in the neighborhood of 200 animals.
Berkley said the Idaho Department of Fish and Game discourages elk feeding, mostly because it prevents natural migration, can draw predators and can foster disease.
“A lot of people do it because they are concerned the elk are hungry, and people’s hearts are in the right place,” she said. “[But] it’s part of how nature regulates populations, and it’s one of those things where it’s a lot easier to never get it started than to stop it.”
However, the agency seems to be making progress in that area. In addition to the sites shut down in Elkhorn and Warm Springs, Berkley said, she believes that the Golden Eagle Homeowners Association, which normally puts a feed site out Timber Gulch south of East Fork Road, voted this year not to feed the herds.
A call to the Golden Eagle Homeowners Association board to confirm that was not returned to the Idaho Mountain Express as of press deadline Tuesday.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org