IDAHO FALLS – Native wildlife such as deer and elk have endured the rugged climate of Eastern Idaho for thousands of years, so it’s evident that they are capable of surviving if left on their own. The tricky part of the equation is that modern man has impacted their population numbers and habitat to such an extreme that biologists must keep a close tab on the animals, the weather, and the habitat to make sure that no significant change goes unnoticed. When extreme circumstances do occur, such as last year’s harsh winter, humans want to help by feeding wildlife. There are numerous factors to consider when discussing winter feeding, with money and manpower being among the most significant.
There is the old saying, “There is no such thing as a free lunch!” With winter wildlife feeding this is doubly true! Many people are unaware of the huge undertaking a feeding operation needs to be, or the costs involved in relation to the benefits received by the individual animal.
In the Upper Snake Region during the winter of 2008, the Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG) along with the aid of numerous volunteers, fed approximately 1,500 deer and 250 elk at locations scattered across the region. In the Arco area, hay was provided to approximately 350 pronghorn. According to Landowner Sportsman Coordinator Russ Knight, “We ended up feeding elk 47 tons of hay in Swan Valley and Teton Valley and 65 tons of deer pellets everywhere else in the region.”
The cost of feeding hay and pellets was not cheap, nearly $32,000; the manpower and materials expenses added another $44,000 to the tab. The total $76,000 cost of feeding would have been even higher if volunteers had not donated time worth over $7,000!
What did all of this money and time buy? The exact answer will never be known because of all the variables involved. Fawn survival was equally dismal on the Sand Creek Desert where feeding occurred, as it was in the Teton Canyon where no feeding was conducted because of extreme logistical problems.
In order to manage wildlife as responsibly as possible, IDFG personnel are constantly monitoring animal condition, habitat quality, and weather related factors. This information is provided to citizen volunteer winter feeding committees for each region. The committees use locally based criteria to make decisions regarding whether or not to begin feeding operations.
A number of years ago, in order to insure funds would be available for feeding, an account that can only be used for winter feeding was created by the legislature. Seventy five cents from each deer, elk, and antelope tag is placed into this account to purchase feed and materials to help prevent wildlife damage to agricultural interests. Feed is already on hand for this year should the conditions’ criteria justify feeding.
In order to help keep the public informed about winter wildlife conditions, the Upper Snake Region sends out to the news media a conditions status report each week or whenever significant changes occur. Members of the public can receive direct e-mail updates by contacting email@example.com and typing winter feeding in the subject box of a blank e-mail. More information about winter big game feeding can be found at: