Elk Jones

In an effort to reduce crop damage caused by elk, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has issued kill permits to landowners and has authorized depredation hunts on agricultural land throughout the Wood River drainage and Magic Valley region, the agency reported Thursday.

According to Fish and Game, elk have continued to return to cultivated fields at night to feast on nutrient-dense crops such as alfalfa, prompting landowners to request depredation assistance. Crop damage will only increase with hot temperatures this summer, the agency stated, as elk will have fewer natural food sources available.

“Increasing numbers of big game animals accessing and damaging crop lands may necessitate … allowing more hunters to hunt antlerless elk, issuing more landowner kill permits, as well as hazing and sharp-shooting by department personnel,” Fish and Game stated in a press release.

With a kill permit, a landowner can take between one and three elk.

“Kill permits allow landowners to assist in reducing big numbers in an effort to reduce or eliminate wildlife that causes crop damage,” the agency stated.

Last month, Fish and Game authorized a depredation hunt—giving hunters the chance to bag antlerless, or cow, elk—on a farm northeast of Fairfield to curtail crop damage on alfalfa fields. More recently, the agency approved a depredation hunt in the Goose Creek area south of Oakley.

The department said that while it had hoped to implement a managed hunting program on private lands in the Little Camas region, it could not secure access to the land this year. In the meantime, Fish and Game will deploy nonlethal hazing measures such as loud noise on elk near the Camas Prairie and Little Camas Reservoir. Eight cow elk in the region have also been radio-collared by department staff, which will allow biologists to track the ungulates’ movements on agricultural land, gauging yearly potential for crop depredations.

For Silver Creek-area farmer Larry Schoen, crop depredation is about the same this year as last year in the Wood River drainage.

“It’s been an issue for many years. These animals favor plentiful food, water and cover—all those things are plentiful on settled agricultural fields,” he said in an interview. “Why eat dry cheatgrass when you can eat lush, 22 percent-protein alfalfa, drink from a creek or irrigation channel and use the hillside for cover? It’s understandable.”

At times, Schoen said, he has counted 350 elk on his property. Fewer have come by this year, as he’s switched from alfalfa to Timothy hay.

“In past years we’ve tried everything from spreading wolf urine to shooting propane canons, to getting on my ATV and chasing the herds off,” he said. “But you chase them away from one area and they pop up in another. It’s very difficult.”

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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