Fish and Game's Upper Snake Region has significant history of winter feeding and has an active Winter Feeding Advisory Committee. The Henry Creek Fire burned over 50,000 acres in the summer of 2016, including over 30,000 acres of the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area. Tex Creek WMA provides significant winter range for about 4,000 elk and 4,000 mule deer. The winter range on Tex Creek is critical for the maintenance of those herds and the hunting opportunity they provide across eastern Idaho and serves to keep the majority of those herds from depredating on nearby private agricultural ground.
Shortly after the Henry Creek Fire, Fish and Game began preparing plans to mitigate the loss of critical winter range including: habitat restoration, expanded harvest opportunity, planting of lure crops and a large winter feeding program. Fish and Game staff consulted with the Upper Snake Winter Feeding Advisory Committee, private land owners surrounding the Tex Creek WMA and the hunting public when planning actions to respond to the loss of critical winter range.
The loss of natural forage from the fire is not expected to cause significant nutritional based mortality to the elk herd, but will primarily impact elk behavior resulting in significant numbers of elk moving onto surrounding agriculture fields. Winter feeding of elk is primarily designed to keep elk on the feeding operations and reduce elk depredations on surrounding agricultural fields.
Winter feeding of mule deer is intended to provide a nutritional substitute for lost natural forage and prevent significant losses to the herd. A short term reduction in the wintering mule deer within the fire scar might be a benefit to habitat recovery, and the overall health of this segment of the mule deer population. Staff expects some level of mortality to the wintering deer population within the area impacted by the fire.
Upper Snake regional staff bought and positioned 2,000 tons of dairy-quality hay in September in preparation for feeding operations in the winter of 2016-17. Feeding commenced on December 4 and has continued uninterrupted. Three Fish and Game employees spend 100-percent of their time on the feeding operation.
March 13, 2017 status report
Fish and Game is feeding approximately 3,500 big game animals at the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area due to loss of suitable forage during last summer's fire. All roads to Tex Creek WMA are closed this winter in order to accommodate winter feeding operations and to reduce stress on animals. Winter feeding of 600 elk in the Big Lost Valley is also underway in order to help alleviate impacts to haystacks and cattle feeding operations in the Moore area. Snow depths and physical conditions of animals are being monitored closely.
The total number of active winter feeding sites in the Upper Snake Region is 2.
- 4,100 elk