Press Release

February 2000

Elk Counts Completed in Units 43 & 44

Wildlife personnel and conservation officers have completed aerial and ground counts of elk in game management units 43 and 44. In the South Fork of the Boise River Drainage (unit 43) a total of 814 elk were noted at five elk feed sites. An additional 364 animals were counted by helicopter away from these locations, for a total of 1,178 elk actually observed. The entire unit, however, was not flown; randomly selected "subunits" in the unit (27 of 50) were surveyed. Department personnel flew a total of 30 hours in the unit. Elk units in the Magic Valley Region are usually flown on a 3-year rotation basis; funding cutbacks, however, have precluded staying on this schedule.

In February of 1995 we counted a total of 1,406 elk while flying unit 43. The sex ratio breakdown this winter showed 260 calves, 791 cows, and 115 bulls, which translates to 33 calves per 100 cows and 14 bulls per 100 cows. These ratios give biologists an indication of herd productivity and survival. Calf production is in line with management objectives, but the number of bulls is below our target minimum of at least 30 bulls (18 mature) per 100 cows.

The fewer bulls noted may be a reflection of mortality suffered during the late winter of 1998 - 99. Animals that stayed at higher elevations or did not come into feed sites may have winter-killed as a result of the January storms that hit unexpectedly. Still, hunter success in unit 43 last fall, for both bulls and cows, was right at 15%; it was also 15% in the fall of 1998.

Since these surveys indicated fewer bulls than desired, the region will recommend a reduction in bull harvest in unit 43. Early bull permits will be cut in half (to 10), and regular controlled bull permits will be reduced to 300 from 500. Cow permit numbers will stay the same at 900, but recommended changes will add 20 days of antlerless hunting and distribute cow hunters more evenly throughout the season.

Commission Meets March 2-3

Fish and Game Commissioners will take action to set big game hunting seasons for this fall when they meet in Boise March 2-3.

The Commission will also be in Boise March 1 to meet with the House Resources and Conservation Committee of the legislature. A public hearing is set to begin at 7 p.m. in the Trophy Room at Fish and Game headquarters March 1. The Commission will begin its meeting at 8 a.m. March 2.

The Commission is expected to act on proclamations for the 2000 deer, elk, black bear, antelope, and lion hunting seasons with discussion beginning at 2 p.m. March 2. The seasons will be described in the proclamations booklet set for delivery to the public in mid April.

Other subjects for this Commission meeting include electronic enhancements on hunting weapons, use of bait for taking big game animals, and the 10 percent rule on nonresident trophy species hunting.

Pheasants Trapped for Transplants

Wild pheasants trapped in Idaho and four other western states will be released in the Magic Valley and Upper Snake Regions this winter, part of a plan to try to rebuild ringneck numbers in southern Idaho.

Fish and Game is changing the way it deals with pheasant populations in the wake of discussions with legislators who represent areas that have lost pheasant hunting opportunity over the last 20 years. Rather than spending all effort and money on pheasant habitat with a small number of roosters being planted on Wildlife Management Areas during the hunting season, the new approach includes planting of wild and game farm birds as well as continuing to work on habitat.

The department plans to obtain several hundred pheasants from trapping operations in eastern Oregon, Utah, central Washington, the Sacramento Valley of California and several locations in western Idaho. So far, weather conditions have been too mild to catch pheasants easily, but biologists still hope to come up with enough wild birds for the project. If they cannot, game farm birds will be substituted.

The wild birds and the game farm pheasants will be planted in locations determined by Fish and Game with the help of advisory committees in the Magic Valley and Upper Snake Regions. About 600 game farm pheasants will be released in the same selected areas as the wild birds.

All released birds will be banded. Radio collars will be attached to 160 wild birds and more than 100 game farm birds to help document their movements, survival and nesting success.

In addition to those releases, Fish and Game plans to purchase and release 12,500 game farm roosters this fall, more than doubling the number released in recent years. They will be released on seven Wildlife Management Areas, selected BLM Wildlife Tracts and other sites selected by the advisory committees.

Big Changes for Lake Pend Oreille Trophy Fishery

Although most anglers have heard of the major changes in fishing regulations on Lake Pend Oreille, many are still wondering exactly what the changes were, what those changes were based on, and what more is being done to help rebuild the kokanee population.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission recently passed emergency rule changes for Lake Pend Oreille and the Clark Fork River to give anglers the opportunity to harvest more rainbow and lake trout (mackinaw), while restricting harvest of kokanee. Fishing for all species is now allowed year round in both Lake Pend Oreille and the entire Clark Fork River. The rainbow limit was increased to six fish, while there is no limit for lake trout (mackinaw). Kokanee were closed to harvest and bull trout remained closed to harvest. There were no changes in the cutthroat limit of two fish. What all this means is that an angler is allowed a general trout limit of six fish, of which no more than two can be cutthroat. If you had one cutthroat, you could harvest five more rainbow. Any lake trout you catch are in addition to your general limit of six other trout (rainbow, brown, cutthroat).

So why the switch from trophy rainbow management to a harvest-oriented trout fishery? Kokanee in Lake Pend Oreille are in serious trouble. We are currently looking at the lowest population levels ever recorded. We only had 280,000 age 3 fish, 80,000 age 2 fish and 250,000 age 1 fish in the fall 1999 population estimate. The average number of kokanee (during the last 22 years of trawling) in these same year classes is 730,000 age 3, 1.23 million age 2, and 1.45 million age 1 fish. Future spawners are going to be scarce and there is no way to "make" more of these older age class fish. We can only try to save what is left.

Ask Fish and Game

Q. I thought Fish and Game had an "electronic bulletin board service." What happened?

A. The F&G BBS started in the early 90s when that was the cutting edge of technology. Now, most of the world has gone to the Internet for electronic information. F&G can save a few bucks each month by cutting off the phone line that the BBS used. The website address is: http://www.state.id.us/fishgame

Fatality Total Worst Since 1982

Idaho's 1999-2000 hunting seasons ended with the highest number of fatalities since 1982.

Five people died in hunting-associated shooting incidents during the seasons recently ended. Four non-fatal shootings were also reported, below the 20-year average for such incidents.

Compared to recent statistics, the number of incidents is no higher than average, but the outcomes were grimmer. Since the inception of Idaho's hunter education program in 1980, hunting seasons have averaged 1.9 fatalities and 5.8 non-fatal shootings.

The figures for the last decade suggest that the 1999-2000 statistics are an anomaly. There were no fatalities in 1993, 1995, 1996 or 1998. Compared to the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, hunting fatalities in Idaho have plunged dramatically.

Of the five fatalities, three involved victims mistaken for game, one was the victim of careless firearm handling and the final incident was caused by a firearm falling from an insecure rest.

The non-fatal incidents involved two cases of firearms discharging while riding in a vehicle and one was alcohol-related. In one odd instance, the shooter was driving a vehicle when he stopped to fire over the cab. The bullet struck the top of the cab, ricocheted and sprayed the passenger in the head with bullet fragments.

In terms of injuries and fatalities compared to total number of participants, hunting in Idaho and America remains one of the safest outdoor sports.

Lost and Found! Missing Forms Found

Data from an estimated 5,000 hunter report cards was recovered February 10, according to Assistant Director Steve Huffaker. It was still with the contractor in Omaha, Nebraska.

"They did the data entry, but forgot to ship the electronic file," said Huffaker. "The additional reports will bring the results closer to where they should be at this time."

Hunters who receive a reminder letter to submit the reports should still fill them out and mail them in, Huffaker said. Fish and Game will purge the duplicates from the file after it is compiled. The information is used to help set seasons and harvest levels for the upcoming year.

All hunters who filed reports will have no problems purchasing a license this year. Hunters who reported by January 31 will also be eligible in the drawing to purchase one of ten "supertags" which they can use in any open hunt for that species.

Radio News Available on Website

For several months, Fish and Game has offered radio stations a telephone number with recorded sound bites. Now, that service is available on the agency website as well.

The service, located at http://www.state.id.us/fishgame/radio.htm provides sound bites and background information for daily news stories on Idaho's fish and wildlife. Sound bites are provided in WAV and/or MP3 file formats. They can also be retrieved by telephone at 1-877-235-2950 or 208-334-2658.

The first item covered is the selection of Minnesotan Rod Sando to head the Department of Fish and Game.

Ask Fish and Game

Q. My son won't be old enough to buy a hunting license until after the controlled hunt application period. Can he apply anyway?

A. Yes, he can actually buy a hunting license at age 11 IF he has completed the required hunter education course. However, he can not use the license to hunt until he turns 12.

Sheep Tag Goes for $46,000

The Idaho bighorn auction permit brought $46,000 at the recent Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS) convention.

Jerry Tyrell, president of the Washington FNAWS chapter, bought the permit for the coming fall sheep hunt. Last year's permit sold for $36,500.

Idaho gives one bighorn sheep permit to FNAWS each year for its auction. Another permit is awarded through a lottery operated by the Idaho chapter of FNAWS.

The FNAWS auction has brought in more than $500,000 for Idaho's bighorn programs since its inception in 1988. All proceeds are deposited in an interest-bearing account dedicated to bighorn sheep restoration and management. The 1999 tag revenue is committed to the Hells Canyon Initiative, a long-term sheep project involving management by Idaho, Oregon and Washington wildlife and land management agencies in the Hells Canyon area. The effort has included transplanting bighorn sheep from Alberta and British Columbia as well as research on bighorn sheep diseases.

New herds in the area are expected to double within five years, according to FNAWS.

Idaho Fish and Game researchers are working on long-term studies of bighorn health as well as conducting aerial and ground surveys of Hells Canyon herds. A sightability model is currently under development to correct population numbers for sheep that are not observed during surveys. (The sightability model will be similar to models for elk and deer populations, a type of wildlife survey in which Idaho has been a national leader.)

Hunters Not at Fault in Report Card Problems

Hunters are not at fault in the problems with Fish and Game's deer and elk hunter report cards, said assistant director Steve Huffaker. "We have a problem with data management that isn't the hunters' fault," Huffaker said, "and due to that problem we sent out reminder letters telling hunters we didn't have their reports." Many of the letters went to people who actually had returned the reports.

All hunters who filed reports will have no problems purchasing a license this year. Those who forgot will have to file when they buy their new license. According to Huffaker, "The glitch is on our side, hunters shouldn't be penalized." Hunters who reported by Jan. 31 will also be eligible in the drawing to purchase one of ten "supertags" which they can use in any open hunt for that species.

Fish and Game does not know yet where the problem is, but is investigating. The data from the reports is entered by a contractor and files are shipped electronically to Fish and Game. There, it is matched against the electronic files of deer and elk tag purchasers, part of which are created by contractors and part by Fish and Game. When there is no matching report found for a tag, that hunter gets a reminder letter.

Huffaker urges hunters to fill out the report contained in the reminder letter and mail it in, just to be very sure the data gets in. The information is used to help set seasons and harvest levels for the upcoming year.

Fishing Rules Changed in Panhandle, Upper Snake

Meeting in Boise Jan. 27, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to change some fishing rules in the Panhandle and Upper Snake regions. Lake Pend Oreille and the Clark Fork River are the waters affected in the Panhandle and Henrys Fork of the Snake River in the Upper Snake Region.

Anglers can help keep the kokanee population in Lake Pend Oreille from collapsing by reducing predators while enjoying what may be spectacular fishing for large trout. Biologists see this as one of the few situations in which predation by one fish species on another can be the controlling factor in survival of a population. Large rainbow trout are being targeted for reduction.

Harvest of kokanee was closed in the Clark Fork River and Lake Pend Oreille to protect the landlocked salmon. Kokanee must now be released immediately back to the water unharmed. Biologists are fearful the population will collapse because of the impacts of lost spawning areas and predation by other fish. The limit on trout including brown, cutthroat, rainbow, and trout hybrids is six, and the limit on lake trout has been removed in the lake and the river. Trout season will be open all year. The daily bag may not include more than two cutthroat, and bull trout must be released immediately, unharmed.

On the Henrys Fork, changes were made to correct inaccurate information printed in the rules brochure. From the mouth to the Del Rio Bridge, the limit on trout will be six and the season open all year. From the Del Rio Bridge upstream to the Vernon (Fritz) Bridge, the limit will be two, none under 16 inches, and the season will be open all year. No motors allowed.

From Vernon Bridge upstream to Ashton Dam, the limit is two, none under 16 inches and it will be open during the general stream season from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through Nov. 30. No motors allowed in this reach.