ISLAND PARK – In the late spring of 2009, the Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG) plans to initiate a 2-year project designed to investigate the timing, duration, and direction of seasonal migrations for elk summering in Unit 61.
According to Regional Wildlife Biologist Shane Roberts, “This work will differ from previous research efforts in the Island Park Zone because we will capture and radio-collar newborn elk calves on summer range, monitor their survival, investigate the cause of mortalities, and monitor their seasonal movements throughout the year.” By conducting this type of project, the department hopes to determine what portion of the elk population in Unit 61 ultimately winters in Montana and what portion is available for harvest by Idaho sportsmen.
During 2009-2010, the research will focus on elk summering around Henry’s Lake in the eastern portion of Unit 61, while elk summering in the western portion of Unit 61 will be the focus during 2010-2011.
Currently, Idaho and Montana have differing elk management objectives in their elk hunting districts/zones adjacent to this stretch of the state border. While Idaho is reducing harvest opportunity in response to a declining wintering elk population on the Sand Creek desert, Montana has increased hunting opportunity in many of its southwest hunting districts in response to agricultural depredations. A better understanding of seasonal elk movements and harvest availability in Unit 61 is crucial to effective elk management on both sides of the Idaho-Montana border.
Migratory elk populations in Upper Snake Region often cross state boundaries during some portion of their seasonal movements, and it is no secret that elk move between Idaho and Montana along the northern boundary of the Island Park Elk Zone. Previous research on elk that winter in the Island Park Elk Zone (Sand Creek desert, Unit 60A) has shown that few of these elk spend summer-fall in Unit 61. Conversely, research conducted in the Gravelly-Snowcrest and Madison Mountains of Montana estimated that over 1,800 elk that wintered in Montana spent some portion of spring-fall in Idaho, primarily in Unit 61. If those estimates are accurate, a significant portion of the elk available to Idaho hunters in the Island Park Zone are wintering in Montana and are therefore not included in winter population estimates from aerial surveys.