Airborne biologists are busy across Idaho as weather conditions for counting big game have improved in recent days.
The herds in about one-third of Idaho's 99 hunting units will be surveyed this winter. Manpower, equipment and funding constraints do not allow surveying in all units every year. However, aerial surveys have been stepped up considerably since 1998 when big game hunters started paying slightly more for their tags, money that goes mostly toward improved surveys.
Fish and Game is pursuing a "pretty aggressive survey schedule through the winter," according to wildlife biologist Jon Rachael.
These direct observations of wintering big game animals are compared with prior surveys of the same areas. This information will be combined with hunter harvest data to aid the department in coming up with recommendations to the Fish and Game Commission for fall hunting seasons. The pressure is on for the next few weeks as biologists hustle to develop adequate information and analysis for the Commission.
Recommendations for deer and elk seasons must be completed for the March Commission meeting. The public will have the opportunity to comment on the department's ideas in February, before final recommendations are presented to the Commission.
Aerial surveys were delayed this winter in most areas of the state because autumn weather continued late into the year. Animals remained scattered and a lack of snow made accurate counting difficult. After snow did fall, weather such as dense fog and stormy conditions made counting impossible for many days.