In the late spring of 2009, Idaho Fish and Game plans to launch a two-year study of the timing, duration and direction of seasonal migrations for elk summering in Unit 61 in Island Park area.
"This work will differ from previous research efforts in the Island Park Zone because we will capture and radio-collar newborn elk calves on summer range, monitor their survival, investigate the cause of mortalities, and monitor their seasonal movements throughout the year," Regional Wildlife Biologist Shane Roberts said.
Fish and Game hopes to determine what portion of the elk population in Unit 61 winters in Montana and what portion is available for harvest by Idaho hunters.
During 2009-2010, the research will focus on elk summering around Henry's Lake in the eastern portion of Unit 61, while research during 2010-2011 will focus on elk summering in the western portion of Unit 61.
Idaho and Montana have different elk management objectives in their elk hunting districts or zones adjacent to this stretch of the state border. While Idaho is reducing harvest opportunity in response to a declining wintering elk population on the Sand Creek desert, Montana has increased hunting opportunity in many of its southwest hunting districts in response to agricultural depredations.
A better understanding of seasonal elk movements and harvest availability in Unit 61 is crucial to effective elk management on both sides of the Idaho-Montana border.
Migratory elk populations in Upper Snake Region often cross state boundaries during some portion of their seasonal movements, and it is no secret that elk move between Idaho and Montana along the northern boundary of the Island Park Elk Zone.
Previous research on elk that winter in the Island Park Elk Zone (Sand Creek desert, Unit 60A) has shown that few of these elk spend summer-fall in Unit 61. Conversely, research conducted in the Gravelly-Snowcrest and Madison Mountains of Montana estimated that more than 1,800 elk that wintered in Montana spent some portion of spring-fall in Idaho, primarily in Unit 61.
If those estimates are accurate, a significant portion of the elk available to Idaho hunters in the Island Park Zone are wintering in Montana and are therefore not included in winter population estimates from aerial surveys.