The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will begin aerial surveys of elk in management units 10 and 12 in the upper Clearwater Region beginning February 1.
The helicopter surveys are scheduled to cover areas the same time each year to make the information gathered comparable from year to year. The goal is to compare population trends, and age and sex ratios. This information allows biologists to be more precise in setting seasons and permit levels, which results in maximum opportunity for hunters.
Besides finding big game animals congregated on lower elevation winter ranges, winter also bring two requirements needed to conduct accurate surveys - clear weather for good visibility and snow covering that aid in locating and identifying species. A helicopter flying low and slow over some of the most remote areas of the state is the most efficient tool for gathering big game herd information.
But using helicopters has its drawbacks. Time in the air is expensive, and finding qualified and experienced pilots is becoming more difficult as many veteran pilots have retired. In addition, and most importantly, low-level flying is dangerous. More than 50 Idaho Fish and Game employees have been involved in aircraft accidents; 10 have been killed.
In spite of the risks, helicopter surveys continue to provide wildlife managers with the best information to use in managing wildlife.