Press Release

February 2008

Ask the Conservation Officer (CO)

by Meghan Roos, Conservation Officer

Question: I have encountered upland bird hunters using ATVs to follow hunting dogs. When a dog would go on point the hunter would stop the ATV, get off and shoot the birds. Once the birds were picked up they would climb back on the ATV and continue after the dogs. Is this legal?

Answer: What they are doing could be a violation of a couple of hunting rules.

According to Idaho Statute 36-1101(b) 1 it is unlawful to hunt game animals and birds from or by the use of any motorized vehicle. The presence or absence of a road is a completely different rule and this law makes no distinction whether a hunter is on or off a road. When the hunters are on their ATVs following their hunting dogs, they are actively hunting, even though they shoot at the birds when they are off of the ATVs.

A careful distinction must be drawn between hunting and non-hunting travel. This law does not prohibit hunters from using motorized vehicles or ATVs to lawfully access hunting areas but it does prohibit their use for hunting. A friend of mind puts it simply, "If the vehicle takes the place of your legs during the hunt, then its use is unlawful."

A second rule that applies to hunting big game, game birds, and upland game in several big game units prohibits off-road use of a motorized vehicle when used as an aid to hunting. This rule is more restrictive than the previous statute and prohibits all off-road use of motorized vehicles when used for the act of hunting.

I suggest sportsmen try to objectively examine what they are doing through someone else's eyes. If it would appear they were using their ATVs in the act of hunting while off-road, they would be in violation of this rule.

Fish and Game Commission Meets in Boise

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is expected to tackle big game seasons and limits, act on wolf management and mule deer management plans, and hear about the prospects for a spring Chinook salmon season during a meeting March 5 and 6 in Boise.

A public comment period begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, in the North Star Room at the Doubletree Riverside, 2900 Chinden Boulevard, Boise.

Thursday morning, March 6, the commissioners will convene at 8 a.m. in the Trophy Room at Fish and Game headquarters at 600 South Walnut. They are expected to consider and act on a proposed Mule Deer Management Plan. The plan would guide mule deer management statewide for the coming decade.

About 10:30 a.m. the commissioners will take up the proposed Idaho Wolf Population Management Plan. The plan would lay out the framework for managing wolves once they are removed from the federal endangered species list. It also would establish the basis for hunting seasons.

Wolf hunting seasons and rules would be set by the commissioners at their May meeting.

Just before lunch, the commission will hear an update on legislation affecting Fish and Game.

About 1 p.m., the commissioners will consider proposed changes to big game seasons and rules. And they would set seasons for deer, elk, antelope, bear and mountain lion.

Commissioners also will hear an update on the 2008 spring and summer Chinook salmon runs and potential fishing seasons. They will preside over hunter education instructor awards, and they will provide direction for the 2010 budget.

Fish & Game, Volunteers Feed Upper Snake Deer

Deer have always wintered in the junipers that flank the massive sand dunes outside of St. Anthony.

Just as they have always wintered there, a certain number have always fallen victim to the vagaries of winter. But the past few mild winters have meant less mortality, resulting in more than 1,200 mule deer and a greater potential for a large die-off with what was once considered a normal winter.

To attempt to help reduce the number of deaths, Idaho Fish and Game is working with volunteers to feed the larger concentrations of animals north of the dunes.

Most of the deer are within the boundaries of the Egin-Hamer Winter Closure Area, established more than a decade ago to help protect wintering wildlife.

In addition to mule deer, large numbers of elk and even moose winter in the area. The area is closed from the start of January until the start of May to all human entry.

Fish and Game, as part of its administrative responsibilities, entered the area and on February 19, started feeding with a special pellet supplement.

Feeding will continue until enough greenup occurs that deer can move back to natural forage. The pellets initially being fed are made from sugar beet pulp.

Starting February 23, a special larger deer pellet made with alfalfa and grains and minerals will be mixed with the smaller beet pulp pellets to help the deer transition from their natural diet to a manmade one. By the following week the deer will be fed the deer pellets exclusively.

The commitment to feed the deer is no small undertaking, and Fish and Game couldn't do it on its own. Volunteers have been scheduled to help with a majority of the feeding and groups such as the Mule Deer Foundation will be out in force to help.

"We've got 32 tons of pellets on hand to feed the St. Anthony deer herd," said Russ Knight, Upper Snake Region landowner sportsman coordinator.

Fish and Game Feeds Elk and Deer in Some Areas

With winter creating harsh conditions for wildlife in a few places, Idaho Fish and Game has been feeding about 1,050 elk at 8 sanctioned feeding sites, and about 2,450 deer at 36 sanctioned sites in the southern and eastern parts of the state.

In addition, 650 elk are being baited away from agricultural operations at six locations.

Statewide, big game populations number about 115,000 elk, 200,000 white-tailed deer and 300,000 mule deer.

In the Southwest Region, big game came into winter in good shape as a result of good fall foraging conditions. Prolonged and above average snow depths and below freezing temperatures will take their toll on the young and the old wintering ungulates.

Weather data is not available for all sites, but in Garden Valley snowfall for January was 41.2 inches - twice the average - and the average temperature was below freezing. This pattern appears to be typical in most of the Southwest Region this year.

Emergency deer feeding conditions were declared February 7.

Fish and Game is feeding 170 mule deer at 8 sites in the Garden Valley-Lowman area.

About 80 elk are being fed incidentally to deer at these sites. The numbers are lower than typical feeding years, but numerous deer and elk are becoming more visible feeding naturally on the open hill sides.

With snow levels well above average in the Weiser Basin, Fish and Game has begun to bait elk away from agricultural and livestock operations in Cambridge, Weiser Flats, Mayfield and Council. Near Mountain Home, Fish and Game is baiting elk away from a livestock operation and from Interstate 84.

Ask Fish and Game: New Turkey Rules

Q. When will the new turkey rules be available?

A. Turkey hunters looking for the new rules won't find them in a separate turkey rules book anymore; the turkey rules have been combined with upland game and furbearers into the Upland Game, Furbearer and Turkey rule book. The new books are back from the printer and are available at license vendors and Fish and Game offices. The new book covers turkey and other upland game for 2008 and 2009.

Unethical Behavior & Fisher Research at Sportsmen's Meeting

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will provide information on unethical hunter behavior in the Clearwater Region as well as recent discoveries in Idaho's fisher populations at the March 4 Sportsmen's Meeting.

The meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. at Fish and Game's Clearwater Region Office, 3316 16th Street in Lewiston.

Reports will also be given on the spring steelhead and salmon seasons, big game season recommendations and aerial survey results, as well as other related activities.

The meeting is open to anyone interested in wildlife and is designed to stimulate informal discussion about local wildlife issues. Coffee and donuts will be provided.

The next meeting will be Tuesday, June 3.

Background: Wolf Delisting Rule

In another step toward delisting, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday, February 21, filed the rule that would remove gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains from the federal endangered species list.

The rule will be posted in the Federal Register on February 27, and it would take effect 30 days later on March 28. Legal action may delay the effective date of the final rule.

Once the rule takes effect, Idaho would assume full management responsibility for wolves. To that end, Idaho Fish and Game has developed a draft Wolf Population and Management Plan. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is expected to consider and act on the plan during its meeting in Boise March 5 and 6.

The plans primary objectives are:

  1. Maintain wolf population at the 2005-2007 levels.
  2. Provide for harvest of wolves at higher levels where conflicts are higher.
  3. Provides flexible and adaptive management approach to harvest.
  4. Maintains connectivity between states by allowing wolves to persist along borders and reducing or eliminating harvest during peak dispersal periods, constant communication between states and monitoring of border packs.
  5. Provides for nonconsumptive enjoyment of wolves.
  6. Manage wolves as a native species similar to other big game.
  7. Monitor health and diseases and other factors.
  8. Mostly assures that wolves will never be relisted and are here to stay.

The draft wolf management plan is available on the Fish and Game Website at: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/wildlife/wolves/state/draft_plan/WolfPo... [PDF, 1.6 MB]

The federal delisting rule covers five listing factors:

Ask Fish and Game: Radio Controlled Boats

Q. What's up with radio controlled toy boats that have fishing gear attached? Are they legal in Idaho?

A. Yes, they are legal. Idaho Fish and Game rules require that a fishing line or lines must be attended by and under the immediate surveillance of the person fishing. But they are not required to hold it. The boats may not be legal in waters closed to motors or boats. A valid Idaho fishing license is required; anglers should check the current rule book for any restrictions or special rules on the water they are fishing.

Public Meetings on Proposed Big Game Rules

Proposed changes to the 2008 big game seasons will be the focus of several upcoming open-house public meetings hosted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Public comments and suggestions will be forwarded to the Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners for their consideration in setting seasons at their meeting March 5-7 in Boise. Commissioners are expected to adopt a proposed Mule Deer Management Plan and a proposed Wolf Population Management Plan, and they will set big game seasons for the 2008 hunting seasons.

Details of proposed changes are available for review and comment on the Fish and Game Website at: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/public. A detailed agenda for the March commission meeting will be available on the Website at: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/about/commission/schedule.cfm.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to publish a final rule, removing wolves in Idaho from the federal endangered species list, in the Federal Register February 28, and Idaho would assume full management March 28. Litigation over delisting, however, is expected to affect timelines - perhaps delaying the process for years.

If the commission adopts the wolf management plan, proposed 2008 wolf hunting rules would be available for public review and comment in April and May. The commission would set 2008 wolf hunting seasons in May. Wolf hunting rules brochures also would become available in July.

Details on draft wolf hunting seasons would available in April. General considerations would include statewide population goals, season structure and methods of take.

Interested individuals can discuss the proposed changes, the wolf plan, and the mule deer plan and provide written comment at the meetings listed here:

Interim Bighorn Policy Adopted

Thursday, February 14, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted an interim strategy on bighorn sheep to ensure separation from domestic sheep in Idaho.

The strategy would identify and establish buffer zones between wild and domestic sheep to reduce interaction and the potential for transmitting disease.

The commissioners approved the strategy during a regular weekly legislative update by telephone conference.

A working group convened at the request of Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter had not yet agreed on an interim strategy by the governor's February 15 deadline. Idaho Fish and Game, in consultation with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, developed its own interim strategy to serve until the working group develops a longer-term recommendation over the next few months. It will meet again in March.

The interim strategy is consistent with existing policy and law and with Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies guidelines for the separation of wild and domestic sheep, Fish and Game Wildlife Bureau Chief Jim Unsworth told the commissioners.

It provides a mechanism for the Department of Agriculture and livestock producers to work with Fish and Game to prevent conflicts, and it could be implemented in some places before livestock owners turn out their sheep this spring while the working group continues working on a long-term policy, Unsworth said.

Unsworth is a co-chairman of the governor's working group.

"I'm encouraged that this discussion is moving away from an emotional approach to a more reasoned approach," Fish and Game Director Cal Groen said at the close of the commission telephone conference Thursday morning. The approved strategy does not argue about disease or how it might be spread, instead it focuses simply on separating wild bighorn sheep from domestic sheep.

Fish and Game Disability Licensing Procedure Changed

By Viki Harber, Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Hunters and anglers who qualify for Social Security or veteran's disability may benefit from new licensing procedures at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

In the past, permanently disabled persons applying for hunting and fishing licenses were required to bring in a current benefit letter each year from the Social Security Administration or, if a disabled veteran, an official letter from the Veteran's Administration stating they are permanently disabled.

This was a tedious procedure for them to go through each year, especially when the person was known to be permanently disabled.

Under new procedures, a person who brings in the current disability statement or current benefits letter will be able to purchase a disabled license each year for five years without having to verify their status annually. This would be considered temporary disability in the Fish and Game database.

Those who are permanently disabled may obtain a certification of permanent disability form from Fish and Game. If they meet the criteria as defined in Idaho Code and commission rules, and have their doctor complete and sign the form stating permanent disability, the information will be entered in the Fish Game license database, and the licensee will retain permanent disability status when purchasing future licenses.

The license itself must be purchased annually.

Before this year, all those wishing to purchase disabled licenses were required to bring current documentation to headquarters or regional offices each year. Now, once the initial paperwork is received at the headquarters or a regional office and the information is transferred to the Fish and Game database, they will be able to purchase the disabled license from any Fish and Game office or vendor when they show proof of residency.

Viki Harber is the administrative assistant in the Salmon Region.

Ask the Conservation Officer (CO)

by Gary Hompland, Regional Conservation Officer

Question: "I saw some dogs chasing elk in the deep snow. Is there anything I or you can do to protect the elk from these dogs?"

Answer: When we experience what I describe as a "more normal winter" and several feet of snow accumulates in many areas, big game animals become vulnerable to marauding domestic dogs. An already bad situation is made worse when a crust forms on the snow. This crust will occasionally support dogs but usually doesn't support the weight of game animals. This situation requires the animals to expend extra energy to escape domestic dogs.

One thing you can do is be a good witness. The "owner, possessor, or one who harbors any dog running at large and which is actively tracking, pursuing, harassing, or attacking, or which injures or kills deer or any other big game animal within this stateÉ" are in violation of Idaho law. In addition, many counties have ordinances that prohibit domestic dogs from "running at large."

You can take good notes, photographs, or video describing the dogs so they can be identified at a later time. You can also disrupt their hunt or pursuit of the game animals by scaring the dogs away. If you are able to capture the dogs, any collar information about the owners would also be helpful.

If conservation officers can identify the owner of the dogs we will issue them citations for allowing their dogs to harass big game animals. If you have the dogs captured, contact your local animal control officer in the sheriff's office or your local conservation officer.

To avoid costly legal and civil litigation with the dog's owner, I strongly urge the public to resist dispatching dogs chasing game animals.