In 1909, the state of elk populations in Idaho was so alarming a moratorium on elk hunting was declared in parts of the state. What had happened to once plentiful herds of elk in Idaho is the story of western expansion across North America.
Lewis and Clark described vast herds covering the grasslands as they made their way west in 1805. As settlers began changing the landscape with farms and ranches, and unregulated market hunters decimated populations through hunting, wildlife like elk disappeared except in secluded parts of the Rocky Mountains.
Alarmed by the rapid disappearance of wildlife, national leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt and Idaho's own Emile Grandjean took action. Roosevelt's efforts led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park; Grandjean's determination helped establish a 220,000-acre game preserve in the Payette River drainage west of the Sawtooth Mountains. Elk herds protected in Yellowstone National Park would later be transplanted to preserves to restore elk in Idaho and throughout the West.
Idaho's elk population today is a direct result of elk transplanted from Yellowstone National Park. Elk were first moved to Idaho in 1915 by railcar and other transplants happened until 1940. Since then, elk have flourished in Idaho and other intrastate transplants have been conducted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to establish elk in unoccupied range. Today, an estimated 107,000 elk roam the state from the forests of North Idaho to the sagebrush country in the south.
To learn more about Fish and Game's current Elk Management Plan, check out this IDFG video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AzBlhqTCgw.
To read more about Idaho's elk population and other 75th Celebration stories, visit the Fish and Game website at www.fishandgame.idaho.gov.