It has been a long harsh winter for all of us in Idaho, and an especially hard one for big game animals in the Upper Snake and Southeast Regions. As the winter weather drags on with deep crusted snow, cold temperatures and little reprieve in sight, Fish and Game is asking people to recreate responsibly and not add additional stress to big game animals that may already be hanging by a thread.
“We know from previous experience that after a bad winter such as this one, big game animals are extremely susceptible to disturbance and many will not make it if they run out of energy reserves over the next month,” says Matt Pieron Regional Supervisor in the Upper Snake Region. “This is the unfortunate reality of a harsh winter, and we are asking people to please do their part by giving these animals plenty of space and even delaying recreational activities to avoid further stressing wildlife.”
How can you help?
- Consider delaying your trip into big game winter range. Big game animals spend much of the winter in lower elevations away from populated areas and on south-facing slopes where the snow isn’t as deep. Avoiding these areas, even if they are open, or delaying your trip until May, will prevent undue stress on animals and help give them their best chance at survival.
- Give wildlife plenty of space. If your presence or actions cause them to move, you're too close. This is true no matter if you are on foot, quiet cross-country skis or a loud snow mobile.
- Control your four-legged hiking companion. Even if your dog isn’t chasing big game animals, its presence may be enough to cause animals to flee and expend unnecessary energy they would not have otherwise used.
What is Fish and Game doing about the situation?
In a continued effort to protect wintering wildlife, Portneuf, Georgetown, and Montpelier Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in the Southeast Region, and the Tex Creek and Market Lake WMAs in the Upper Snake Region will remain closed to human entry until winter conditions improve. Thousands of big game animals utilize these WMAs for security during the winter months. Keep in mind this will also impact some turkey hunting opportunities on these WMAs if the closures persist into spring turkey season.
Conservation officers and other staff from Fish and Game will have an increased presence in the field this spring. They will be patrolling to ensure that people are not harassing animals or venturing into closed areas.
Using winter-feeding criteria and input from Winter Feeding Advisory Committee members, Fish and Game has been operating 22 big game feeding sites in the Upper Snake Region and more than 30 in the Southeast Region. While congregating animals at a feed site is always a last resort, many were deemed necessary this winter to prevent conflicts with animals in haystacks and feedlines, address public safety concerns with animals on highways and roads, or to assist struggling animals. People should be aware that even at these feeding sites, a number of winter-killed animals have already succumbed to the rigors of a prolonged winter.
“We realize that asking people to postpone their trips or alter their behavior is a big ask,” says Pieron. “This winter has been brutal, and these animals will benefit from any relief we can provide them.”
For maps of the WMAs please visit the Fish and Game website idfg.idaho.gov. If you have questions about the WMA closures or about wintering wildlife in your area, please contact either the Southeast Region Fish and Game office in Pocatello at 208-232-4703 or the Upper Snake Region in Idaho Falls at 208-525-7290.