A bull moose died after eating a yew plant north of Ketchum on Jan. 17, Fish and Game officials said Tuesday, reviving annual winter concern over the toxic ornamental evergreen.
The animal was otherwise healthy, according to a field necropsy conducted by a Fish and Game conservation officer. The officer confirmed that the animal had found and eaten yew in the backyard of a home.
It’s illegal to have yew plants in Blaine County, Hailey and Ketchum. But, each year, wintering deer, elk and moose die after eating them. The nonnative plants stay green all winter and are common in residential landscaping. Browsing ungulates are particularly attracted to the bushes when they move down into their historic winter ranges during snowy months, according to Fish and Game spokesman Terry Thompson.
Regional Wildlife Manager Mike McDonald said landowners need to be aware of the plants they use to landscape properties.
“I realize that it’s hard to dig up mature landscaping but everyone needs to do the right thing for wildlife, and even to protect your pets, by removing plants like exotic yew,” he said. “It takes a surprising small amount of yew to kill an elk, deer or moose, which are all species that residents can see throughout the valley, almost daily.”
Ungulate deaths occurred despite a county ordinance that makes the various species of yew—including the Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata), English yew (Taxus baccata), Chinese yew (Taxus chinensis) and their hybrids—illegal to sell and plant. The ordinance was passed by county officials in March 2016 to protect wildlife and pets after around 20 elk died in January of that year, most at the Hailey Cemetery and the Valley Club north of Hailey.
According to the county’s 2016 yew ordinance, noxious weed specialists with the county have the right to go in and remove yew from any lawn in Blaine County, but only if there is “probable cause for entry” and a “reasonable” attempt has been made to contact the landowner.” Per the code, any landowner with knowledge of the presence of any of the plants on his or her property is considered to possess it.
The ordinance provides for fines up to $1,000 and allows the county to “charge fees for [removal] work performed,” “initiate enforcement action” and “seek restitution for the costs of enforcement.”
Both the city of Ketchum and city of Hailey passed their own separate yew ordinances in 2017. Sun Valley and Bellevue do not have any ordinances specific to the plant, but Bellevue does have an ordinance making it illegal to expose people and animals to “known poisonous substances.”
Hailey’s yew ordinance, signed in March 2017 by then-mayor Fritz Haemmerle, treats the possession, sale or planting of a yew as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. Ketchum’s yew ordinance, signed in March 2017 by then-mayor Nina Jonas, treats those actions as infractions punishable by $100.
County, partners push for yew awareness
While growing and selling yew is illegal in Blaine County, it is not in other parts of Idaho. Fish and Game has worked with landscapers in cities such as Twin Falls and Jerome to curtail the use and spread of the plants, the department said.
Locally, the organization Wildlife Smart Communities—a coalition of local governments, state and federal agencies, businesses and residents devoted to the reduction of human-wildlife conflict in the Wood River Valley—continues to look for ways to get the plants out of Blaine County. Blaine County Commissioner Muffy Davis attended one of their meetings last week, she said during the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday.
“We were discussing ways that the community can address yew—and we are looking for ways to educate people that can identify yew,” Davis said. “It would be a big benefit to the community as we try and eradicate this noxious weed.”
The Ohio Gulch Transfer Station accepts yew debris free of charge, though it must be seperated from other yard waste. Because nearly all part of the plant is toxic, every trace of it must be removed from property, Fish and Game says.
“Yew has been blamed in the death of untold numbers of wildlife across Idaho over the past several years,” Thompson said in a statement, “with deer, elk, moose and pronghorn falling victim to the toxic plant.” ￼
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This is tragic ! And unforgivable! They were supposed to ban this stuff and I hope get fined ! What’s shame of a harvestable animal !
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