For the third year in a row, a large group of elk have moved from their historic wintering area in Teton Canyon and have followed the river down towards Sugar City and Rexburg. The elk have been sighted near the junction of Highway 20 and Highway 33 and are a cause for concern to passing motorists.
With the cooperation of local landowners Fish and Game implemented a baiting operation in late December to try and prevent the elk from reaching the highway and potentially causing an accident. Officers also worked with landowners to patrol and place signs in the area in an attempt to minimize disturbance to the elk.
Despite these efforts, several snow machines were documented chasing a group of elk along the Teton River on Sunday afternoon. “Chasing wildlife is illegal and creates a problem for both the animals and people,” says Doug Petersen Regional Conservation Officer. “Please be respectful and give wildlife some space, especially during this time of year when they are extremely vulnerable.”
The herd is being monitored closely as wildlife managers work with Idaho State Police, Idaho Department of Transportation, Madison County Sheriff’s Office and local landowners on a plan to safely move the elk across Highway 20 and head them towards the Sand Creek Desert. It is likely that a portion of Highway 20 near the Sugar City exit will be closed briefly as the elk are urged to cross, a plan that has proven successful in the past.
Law enforcement requests that the public keep their distance from the elk and not disturb them. Even unintentional disturbance may cause the animals to run into traffic and cause an accident or injury. "Public safety is our number one priority," says Petersen.
Motorists should continue to use caution in the area by slowing down and keeping an eye out for wildlife crossing the roads.
--Update Feb. 9--
At 1:45 p.m. on Feb. 9, Highway 20 near the Sugar City exit was closed for approximately 15 minutes to allow an elk herd of over 150 animals to cross from the east side of the highway to the west side.
“This was a well coordinated effort and we would like to thank ISP, ITD, Madison County and all of the many landowners involved in making this happen safely," says Doug Petersen Regional Conservation Officer. "They all played an important part in making sure this happened in the best way possible and without incident."
Fish and Game requests that the public continue to be diligent and keep their distance from the elk so as not to disturb them. Unintentional disturbance may cause the animals to run into traffic and cause an accident or injury.