Fire burned 22,000 acres of winter range on the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area in eastern Idaho in 2016. To support elk and deer, and prevent private property damage, Idaho Fish and Game set in motion the largest winter feeding operation in Idaho’s history.
In recent years, an estimated 4,000 elk and 2,500 deer migrate to winter range on the Tex Creek WMA, where they find food and shelter. But with the grasses, forbs and brush burned off this year, elk and deer would naturally have moved on to forage elsewhere. They would find food just 13 miles away in farm fields, haystacks, livestock yards, neighborhoods and towns.
Knowing private property had to be protected, Fish and Game set up an emergency feeding operation in a remote valley on the Tex Creek WMA. Fish and Game hauled 1,500 tons to a fenced-in stack yard. A hay shredder to chop and spread the hay was acquired, and a three-person crew was hired to feed through winter.
On Dec. 7, the crew started feeding up to fifteen tons of hay daily to upwards of 4,000 elk.
The estimated cost of the emergency feeding at Tex Creek is expected to reach $350,000. The money comes from a special winter feeding account. It is funded solely by sportsmen, with 75 cents of every deer, elk and pronghorn tag purchased going into this account to pay for winter feeding and prevent wildlife damage to agricultural assets.
Mule Deer Herds
What about the mule deer herds that usually winter on Tex Creek? Unlike the elk, mule deer moved through the burned areas and into the surrounding canyons and farm fields for food and shelter. Deer are less destructive to agriculture property than elk, making their impacts on private property less of a problem.
Wildlife biologists are concerned about mule deer surviving a harsh winter on burned winter range. However, mule deer do not take to feeding operations as well as elk. Biologists are actively monitoring deer herds in the Tex Creek area.
Roads around Tex Creek WMA are closed by Bonneville County until April 15. (see map and more details)
Idaho Fish and Game is asking the public to respect roads and rangelands closed to travel. Wild animals’ fat reserves are generally low in late winter and so is the quality of food available to them. Additional stress from people disturbing deer and elk, can make a difference between them surviving the winter or not.