Conservation Officer Andrew Sorensen received a call on Dec. 19 about a deceased mule deer fawn on the outskirts of Rexburg. The fawn belonged to a group of about 25 mule deer that hang out on the south end of town every winter. Upon investigation, Sorensen determined that the young fawn had ingested a large amount of Japanese yew and died of yew toxicity.
Japanese yew is a non-native plant that is often used an ornamental shrub for landscaping. It is often sold by local nurseries and chosen by homeowners due to the plants ability to stay green and lush all year. Japanese yew is highly toxic when ingested by domestic livestock, or by wildlife such as deer, elk, pronghorn and moose, as well as dogs and cats. Ingesting only a small handful of needles is enough to kill an animal.
“This is the first death I have seen this year caused by the plant and I hope it does not become a pattern,” says Sorensen. Multiple wildlife deaths have been attributed to the Japanese yew over the past few years in Idaho including a moose calf Sorensen collected in the same area last year.
Fish and Game officials have seen other animal deaths to yew poisoning in suburban areas where wildlife congregates in winter. In January 2017, a herd of 50 pronghorn died after eating yew in the Payette area.
Fish and Game is encouraging homeowners living on the edge of towns or in rural areas to consider alternative plants when landscaping and to replace Japanese yew plants if they have them. In addition, anything a homeowner can do to prevent animals from gaining access to the plants is helpful.
You can find more information about the Japanese yew and reducing the risk to wildlife by visiting the following website https://idfg.idaho.gov/conservation/yew/paper