DRIGGS - Five years ago, two Teton Basin landowners decided that they could help deer, elk, and moose that winter on their private property by reducing the human disturbance caused primarily by snow machines and x-country skiers. The landowners took the initiative to approach the Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG) for help with signs to post their areas as well as the adjoining IDFG Rainey Bridge Access Site. According to Regional Habitat Biologist Kim Ragotzkie, "Last year was a light winter and the elk never ended up in that area, so we didn't enact the closure. This year conditions are starting to look like we could expect elk in the area, so we're going to post the closure that will start on January 1 and run through March 31."
According to Ragotzkie, "The landowners were aware that human disturbance could cause big game animals to move off traditional winter range areas. The sites total nearly 1,500 acres that will be restricted to access with permission only. Several properties lie directly adjacent to the Rainey Bridge Access Site. Another site encompasses land currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and is important because it occupies part of the migration corridor between the Big Hole Mountains and the winter range at Rainey Bridge. " Because these access restrictions are self-imposed, the ranchers who own the land will still retain full control of their property and will be able to use it as they like. To help facilitate these activities, IDFG will be providing signs to help post the boundaries of this voluntary action.
"These landowners are really helping wildlife by allowing them to stay on their normal winter range." said Ragotzkie. Minimizing human caused disturbances is important because up to 150 elk from the Big Hole Mountains, plus deer and moose, utilize the area each winter. Animals that have quality winter range not only handle the winter better, but they stand less risk of transmitting disease and getting into trouble with agricultural interests.
The concern voiced by many in the basin has been that snow machines push wildlife off winter range. Voluntary actions like this, as well as self-regulation by snowmobilers will help reduce conflicts." As part of its overall management strategy, IDFG has increased efforts to map and enhance existing winter range in the basin. While the closure technically goes into effect on January 1, Ragotzkie was clear to state, "This closure wasn't meant to keep out the waterfowl hunters who still have a few weeks left to their seasons. They may still drive in to the boat ramp to hunt waterfowl along the Teton River.