The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is providing 5,000 antlerless elk tags for new general hunts in the Pioneer Zone and part of the Smoky-Bennett Zone in an effort to reduce elk depredation on agricultural fields.

The Pioneer Zone includes the Pioneer Mountains, Copper Basin, the eastern White Cloud Mountains and the East Fork Salmon area. The hunt in the Smoky-Bennett Zone covers hunting Units 45 and 52, which run from U.S. Highway 20 south to the Snake River and from about Picabo west to Mountain Home.

The new hunts offer 2,500 tags in each of the two zones.

Previously, elk hunting in those zones was only through controlled hunts, which require hunters to submit applications for a relatively small number of tags. The new general hunt replaces those hunts and offers tags on a first-come-first-served basis.

Controlled hunts remain in effect in the area for antlered elk. In Unit 49, which covers the east side of the Wood River Valley, 25 controlled-hunt tags for antlered elk are available for Oct. 1-14 and 200 tags are available for Oct. 15-31.

The capped general hunt in the Pioneer Zone will run from Nov. 1 through Dec. 7 and the hunt in the Smoky-Bennett Zone will run from Nov. 1-30.

“Our numbers are showing that we have very large elk herds, and a lot of those are coming in on agricultural lands, and we’re trying to reduce those conflicts,” said Terry Thompson, spokesman for Fish and Game’s Magic Valley Region.

The department’s 2014-2024 elk management plan sets an objective of having 3,150-5,600 cow elk in the Pioneer Zone. The count in 2017 was 6,727, up from 5,544 in 2013.

“The thinking is that probably the population has increased again,” Thompson said.

Thompson said there has been a 30 percent hunter success rate for antlerless elk in previous controlled hunts in the zone. Therefore, if all the tags are purchased, the hunt is expected to reduce the cow elk population by 750 animals in each zone this fall. Thompson said the department expects that hunters will need several seasons to bring cow elk numbers down to the desired level.

Under Idaho law, the Department of Fish and Game authorizes payments from a state fund to landowners to compensate them for crop damage caused by grazing wildlife. In Unit 49 in fiscal 2019—for depredation incidents that occurred in 2018—those payments totaled $44,068. The state paid $7,975 in fiscal 2018 and $5,544 in fiscal 2017, according to Fish and Game data.

Magic Valley Regional Wildlife Manager Mike McDonald said the increase this year was probably due to a dry summer in 2018 and an increase in the elk population.

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