When big snowstorms roll through Idaho, people often wonder how they will effect big game, and whether Idaho Fish and Game will start feeding deer, elk, pronghorn and other animals. The short answer is this is a normal winter so far, and there’s no need for emergency winter feeding to help animals survive.
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, in mid February, Idaho’s snowpack was ranging from 83 percent to 124 percent of average with the majority of drainages running between 85 and 95 percent.
Fish and Game has winter feeding advisory committees in each region of the state except the Panhandle (which has never had a winter feeding program). The regional advisory committees monitor weather conditions and keep a watchful eye on things such as snow depth, whether there’s crust on snow that hinders an animal’s ability to forage for food, extended periods of sub-zero temperatures, whether animals are congregating on private agriculture lands and causing problems, and other factors.
If these conditions start to occur due to winter weather, the committees convene and make recommendations to Fish and Game based on specific criteria whether to begin emergency feeding.
Winter feeding is typically done under emergency conditions only. In most years, snow depths and temperatures do not create adverse conditions for wintering animals. Deer, elk, pronghorn and other wildlife are adapted to Idaho’s climate and can withstand most winter weather conditions.
However, there are times when unusual weather patterns create critical periods when winter forage becomes limited or unavailable. In some instances, animals are healthy and able to withstand winter weather, but they move into areas that create public safety hazards. Those types of situations prompt Fish and Game officials to start emergency winter feeding.
One such situation is currently happening in the Eastern Idaho where a herd of elk is wintering near highways near Rexburg.
During normal winters, the Fish and Game Commission recognizes that big game populations should be maintained under natural conditions, and by naturally available forage.