Emergency feeding will begin for mule deer this weekend in the Pocatello areas of Mink Creek and Gibson Jack affected by the Charlotte Fire last June.
The declaration of a feeding emergency in the Charlotte Fire-affected areas should not be viewed as a signal that emergency feeding is necessary throughout the region. Even with this recent snow accumulation, winter conditions in southeast Idaho are fairly normal for this time of year. However, Fish and Game will continue to monitor winter conditions and wildlife needs throughout the region as winter progresses.
The emergency exists only for a small resident deer herd directly affected by the Charlotte Fire. These deer have been habituated to the residential areas of Mink Creek and Gibson Jack for many years and have not shown the routine migratory behavior of most mule deer herds in southeast Idaho. Even with 1,000 acres of landscape affected by the Charlotte Fire, there are thousands of acres of quality deer habitat in the immediate areas surrounding Mink Creek and Gibson Jack. Nonetheless, deer have been continuing to wander through the burn area and even crossing the highway more frequently than observed in other years.
Also contributing to this resident deer behavior are the efforts of some individuals who have engaged in feeding not sanctioned by Fish and Game. These well-intentioned activities have not been organized in a cooperative effort, and feeding locations have held deer in areas that are drawing them back and forth across roads, presenting a danger to the deer and to motorists.
To address this issue, Idaho Fish and Game has designated three feed sites to begin operation this weekend. The sites will be located close to the perimeter of the fire-impacted area in unburned sections of the landscape.
"We want to avoid drawing deer from good habitat down into the burned area," said Jason Beck, landowner-sportsmen coordinator for Fish and Game's Southeast Region. "And the location of these feed sites will also hopefully draw deer up from the burned areas away from the busy roads."
Fish and Game will be working closely with Terry Taysom, of Pocatello, and the Southeast Idaho Mule Deer Foundation, a conservation organization to which Taysom belongs. Taysom and foundation will assist Fish and Game personnel with transporting feed to the approved sites, coordinating volunteers and the landowners, and monitoring activity at the feed sites and in surrounding areas.
Fish and Game personnel will rely on their own observations as well as input from volunteers and residents of the area to determine if the deer feeding stations are in fact reducing the potential for deer-vehicle collisions and are not creating unacceptable new problems for area property owners.
For these feeding operations to work appropriately, Fish and Game is asking the public to resist the temptation to seek out these sites. The act of driving by or hiking in to these locations can cause the deer to move. Wintering deer live and die by the amount of energy they are required to expend when they are disturbed, and animals can sometimes retreat into less suitable habitat.
Fish and Game is also asking the public, especially those in the areas affected by the fire, to refrain from feeding mule deer.
Winter feeding is not a cure-all and has its own problems, which is why Fish and Game only implements feeding programs when an emergency exists. Besides the potential for disease transmission, habituating wildlife to artificial feed sites, drawing wildlife across roadways or into unsuitable habitat, creating predator traps, and other challenges, feed sites also create competitive situations. Sometimes mule deer does will actually kick their own fawns away from the feed.
If additional feed sites are necessary in the Charlotte Fire area or anywhere else in the region, Fish and Game in cooperation with the Winter Feeding Advisory Committee will make those determinations and act accordingly.
The Winter Feeding Advisory Committee is composed of five volunteers, representing various regions of southeast Idaho, appointed to their positions by the Fish and Game Commission. The committee meets at least once a month - more often if winter or wildlife conditions merit it - starting in the fall and usually continuing through April.
For questions or concerns about wintering wildlife, please contact a member of the Winter Feeding Advisory Committee (see below) or contact Fish and Game at 208-232-4703.