Wildlife personnel and conservation officers have completed aerial and ground counts of elk in game management units 43 and 44. In the South Fork of the Boise River Drainage (unit 43) a total of 814 elk were noted at five elk feed sites. An additional 364 animals were counted by helicopter away from these locations, for a total of 1,178 elk actually observed. The entire unit, however, was not flown; randomly selected "subunits" in the unit (27 of 50) were surveyed. Department personnel flew a total of 30 hours in the unit. Elk units in the Magic Valley Region are usually flown on a 3-year rotation basis; funding cutbacks, however, have precluded staying on this schedule.
In February of 1995 we counted a total of 1,406 elk while flying unit 43. The sex ratio breakdown this winter showed 260 calves, 791 cows, and 115 bulls, which translates to 33 calves per 100 cows and 14 bulls per 100 cows. These ratios give biologists an indication of herd productivity and survival. Calf production is in line with management objectives, but the number of bulls is below our target minimum of at least 30 bulls (18 mature) per 100 cows.
The fewer bulls noted may be a reflection of mortality suffered during the late winter of 1998 - 99. Animals that stayed at higher elevations or did not come into feed sites may have winter-killed as a result of the January storms that hit unexpectedly. Still, hunter success in unit 43 last fall, for both bulls and cows, was right at 15%; it was also 15% in the fall of 1998.
Since these surveys indicated fewer bulls than desired, the region will recommend a reduction in bull harvest in unit 43. Early bull permits will be cut in half (to 10), and regular controlled bull permits will be reduced to 300 from 500. Cow permit numbers will stay the same at 900, but recommended changes will add 20 days of antlerless hunting and distribute cow hunters more evenly throughout the season.
Unit 44 was flown for 10 hours, with 11 of 19 subunits flown. There are no Commission-approved feed sites in this unit, so all survey work was from the helicopter. A total of 354 elk were counted and classified as 63 calves, 208 cows, and 83 bulls. That indicates good calf production and an excellent ratio of 40 bulls per 100 cows --- well above management goals for that unit.
An interesting note is to compare elk numbers for these two units from the 1995 counts and the most recent. The earlier count was 1,612; this time it was 1,532. That is a difference of only 80 elk. At last report from Conservation Officer Greg Wooten of Fairfield, wolves had killed a total of six calf elk. Five were near feed sites and one was a drainage away from the Lick Creek shed. This unnatural concentration of big game animals makes some of them easier prey for these efficient predators. An oversnow closure remains in effect in parts of the South Fork Boise River drainage (unit 43) until April 30.