Increased human activity in an area closed to protect wintering big game herds has led land and wildlife managers to step up education and enforcement efforts near Rexburg and St. Anthony.
At a recent meeting between Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Department of Lands and law enforcement officers, Idaho Department of Fish and Game staff members reported a lot of people moving into the public lands north and east of the St. Anthony Sand Dunes, an area normally closed to people until May 1.
Some of the activity is attributed to Brigham Young University-Idaho students looking for the Civil Defense Caves or other popular hangouts, but who may not be familiar with the closure, now in its ninth year. Other incursions into the area come from local folks who ignore it, either through ignorance or apathy.
"The wildlife are headed into the most critical time of the season in the next two months," said Josh Rydalch, habitat biologist in charge of Sand Creek Wildlife Management Area. "Between now and the first of spring, deer, elk and moose have all but used up their fat reserves, and they are especially susceptible to disturbances."
These disturbances include ATVs, snowmobiles or other traffic on primitive roads and trails, and hikers or horseback riders off the main roads. Disturbing the big game this late in the winter season can lead to widespread disease and starvation.
Fremont County Sheriff's deputies attending the meeting have also noticed a sharp increase this year in traffic off of the Egin-Hamer Road and the Red Road into the closed areas. When they catch offenders, the fines in Fremont County Court can easily be $200 per violation.
Only a portion of the open sand dunes are available for ATV and other traffic until the agencies lift the closure. The area south of the Egin-Hamer Road will re-open at sunrise on April 1, while the area north of the Egin-Hamer Road, including around the Sand Dunes, will re-open at sunrise on May 1.
As a reminder, signs announcing "No Human Entry" will be placed around the closed public lands. The opening time was shifted this year from midnight to sunrise to make it easier for everyone involved to see what is going on.
Anyone seeing traffic in the closed area is encouraged to report it to the Fremont County Sheriff, BLM rangers, or Fish and Game conservation officers. For more information, contact the BLM in Idaho Falls at 524-7500, or the Fish and Game regional office in Idaho Falls at 525-7290.