Several species of wild animals made headlines in 2017, but starving elk and deer, bogged down in deep snow, got the most attention.
Elk and deer feeding
Last winter’s unusually heavy snowfall prompted the Department of Fish and Game to mount an effort to feed elk and mule deer in southern Blaine County.
Seventeen feeding sites were established to try to keep elk and mule deer away from roads, livestock operations, hay-bale stacks and crop areas. The department fed hay to about 1,300 elk at nine sites and special pellets to about 650 deer at eight sites. Throughout the state, the department operated 156 feeding sites that fed more than 13,000 deer, 12,000 elk and 200 pronghorn.
“Most all the vegetation on south-facing slopes is covered with snow and difficult for deer and elk to access,” said Daryl Meints, the department’s regional wildlife manager.
On Jan. 28, using trucks, snowmobiles and people on foot, the Department of Fish and Game moved a herd of about 120 elk away from state Highway 75 north of Hailey onto a feeding site on a state-owned parcel along the northern end of Buttercup Road. The elk had been spending the winter on a private parcel at Peregrine Ranch between the highway and Buttercup Road.
“They’ve been moving in an out and crossing the roads there,” department spokesman Kelton Hatch said. “That was our goal—to get them out of harm’s way.”
In mid-February, controversy over private feeding of elk erupted at Golden Eagle subdivision, with misdemeanor citations issued against two residents there for allegedly feeding the animals. Golden Eagle is in the county’s Wildlife Overlay District, which requires new subdivisions to demonstrate a “prohibition of wildlife feeding.” When it was formed, Golden Eagle complied with that ordinance.
In response, another resident also involved with the feeding filed a complaint in 5th District Court seeking an injunction prohibiting enforcement of that code provision, on the grounds that it was unconstitutionally vague.
Eleven days later, Blaine County filed a lawsuit against five Golden Eagle residents over the elk feeding. The county’s suit sought a permanent injunction against feeding big game and compensation for the effort to stop it. At the same time, the misdemeanors citations were dropped.
As of year’s end, the county’s suit remained unresolved.
In October and November, the county commissioners held two workshops addressing the possibility of making private feeding of elk a misdemeanor criminal offense. However, they later dropped the idea.
Early-summer assessments indicated that Idaho’s mule deer fawn mortality wasn’t as bad as had been feared, but was still the second-lowest winter survival in nearly 20 years. About 70 percent of radio-collared fawns and 10 percent of collared does did not survive the harsh winter conditions.
Elk survival was substantially better, with 54 percent of radio-collared calves and 96 percent of collared cows making it through winter.
In late January, a cow moose fell through an unlatched window into a basement bedroom in southwest Hailey.
Beginning about 2:30 a.m., the moose spent about three hours in the basement of the home on Queen of the Hills Drive while Department of Fish and Game and law enforcement officers tried several times to shoo her upstairs. At about 5:30 a.m., a Fish and Game officer arrived from Twin Falls with a tranquilizer dart gun.
According to homeowner Julie Emerick, the officer darted the moose, which quickly succumbed and passed out in a corner. Eight officers rolled the approximately 600-pound animal onto a tarp.
“With a lot of grunting and groaning they got her up the stairs and out the door, Emerick said. “Fifteen or 20 minutes later, she got up and ran off.”
The incident was reminiscent of one that occurred in December 2015, when a cow elk crashed through a basement window into a home just north of Hailey. Using the same methods attempted with the moose, Fish and Game officers and sheriff’s deputies herded that animal up the stairs and out the door.
Mountain lions coming into Wood River Valley towns are a regular occurrence every winter, and 2017 was no exception.
On Jan. 3, an old female cougar was shot by a hunter in a field close to Griffin Ranch subdivision south of Bellevue.
Blaine County Sheriff Steve Harkins said the county’s animal-control officer found the lion under the deck of a home. He said the Sheriff’s Office was informed later in the afternoon that it had been shot.
Meints, of Fish and Game, said the cougar was in poor condition and had several broken teeth.
“Lions in this condition often get themselves into trouble doing desperate things,” he said. “In the long run, it’s probably the best thing that could have happened to this lion. It probably would have ended up starving to death.”
This winter, on Dec. 16, a Labrador dog was apparently killed by a mountain lion along the Big Wood River near St. Luke’s hospital.
Hatch said a report from a conservation officer stated that the dog had been let out by its owner at night and didn’t return.
“It was down in the river corridor, an area that we assume cats are using for a migration corridor,” Hatch said.
Hatch said no blood or cougar tracks were found near the house, and indications are that the cougar was not hunting the dog and the encounter was either provoked by the dog or was accidental.
“It was a cat doing what cats do, in a cat habitat,” he said.
Hatch said the department therefore had no plan to trap or kill it.
In July, the Sawtooth National Forest closed all camping along the North Fork Road, behind the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters, after a black bear frequented campgrounds there and even grabbed the foot of a camper sleeping on the ground.
The bear first awoke campers July 12 at 12:30 a.m. and was chased off. The following evening, July 13, one of the campers was awakened after feeling pressure on her right foot from the bear’s mouth. She yelled and the bear ran off.