As snow blankets the backcountry, wildlife biologists take to the sky for the annual big game count. The tradition that began 65 years ago in 1948 continues to this day.
Idaho Fish and Game became one of the first wildlife management agencies in the country to use aircraft to count big game animals when it used a Bell 47 helicopter in 1948. Early the next year, a Curtis four-place Air Sedan was used to count and determine the location of elk on winter range in Chamberlain Basin. To help better estimate actual numbers, a high-speed camera was used to take photographs of pronghorn herds in southern and south central Idaho.
Aerial surveys cover the same locations at the same time of the year in order to gather information that can be compared from year to year. They are usually scheduled during the winter because animals congregate on their wintering areas and snow makes them easier to see.
The goal of aerial surveys is to develop population trends, and age and sex ratios. This information helps Fish and Game to set seasons and permit levels for managing Idaho's big game herds.
For more on Idaho's celebration marking 75 years since the creation of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission in 1938, go online to http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/75th/.