By Anna Owsiak, Regional Wildlife Biologist, IDFG, Southwest Region
Nestled in the breaks of Hell's Canyon and overlooking Brownlee Reservoir is the Cecil D. Andrus Wildlife Management Area, more commonly known as Andrus WMA. This 24,000 acre area is home to a number of wildlife species, plant communities and wildland recreational opportunities. Each year, thousands of hunters, hikers and wildlife watchers enjoy access to this unique and special place.
Prior to becoming the Andrus WMA, the area was a working cattle ranch, locally known as the Hillman Ranch. The owners were committed to preserving the ranch's uniqueness, wildlife values and its continued availability to hunters and public land users. The Mellon Foundation acquired the ranch from the Hillmans in 1993 and then transferred ownership to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The WMA is currently composed of lands owned by Fish and Game, the Idaho Department of Lands, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, and is managed through a multi-agency conservation partnership. Fish and Game is responsible for the daily operations on the Andrus WMA.
Andrus provides critical winter range for almost 900 elk and 1,500 mule deer each year. Bighorn sheep are found in the Duke's Creek and Wildhorse Creek basins. Chukar and Hungarian partridge, California quail and forest grouse are found year round on the WMA. Wild turkeys are also year-round residents, and are most visible during the winter months at WMA headquarters. Mountain quail, one of Idaho's species of special concern, were found on the WMA in the past, although none have been seen in recent years. Perhaps one day their distinctive call will be heard on the WMA again.
Other WMA wildlife include black bears, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, badgers, coyotes, bats, rabbits and songbirds. Eagles and hawks are also year-round residents of the WMA, and are most visible in the spring and summer months.
Most of the WMA is steep grass covered slopes, composed of annual grasses like cheatgrass at low elevations and changing into perennial grass stands of bluebunch wheatgrass and Idaho fescue at higher elevations. Lava outcroppings are found throughout the area. Scattered remnant stands of sagebrush and bitterbrush can be found on most hillsides, with patches of aspen, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine at higher elevations. Creek bottoms are full of cottonwoods, serviceberry, dogwood and poison ivy - so be careful where you walk!
Spring flower blooms can be spectacular, especially in years of heavy rainfall. Indian paintbrush, lupine, balsamroot and other showy flowers decorate the hillsides with splashes of color. For wildlife watchers, spring is also a good time to see black bears. They are often seen on hillsides and in creek bottoms, foraging on grass and wild onions.
Management of the Andrus WMA is focused on protecting and improving big game winter ranges and year-round game bird habitat. Past and current efforts include shrub and food plot plantings and noxious weed control. Cattle grazing - using a deferred rotation grazing system - continues to occur on the WMA and has been very compatible with wildlife values.
Several noxious weed species are found on the WMA, including whitetop, scotch and Canada thistle, spotted knapweed and rush skeletonweed. Many of these weeds pose serious threats to wildlife, and if left unchecked could be devastating to critical big game winter range habitat. Although not yet found on the WMA, leafy spurge and yellow starthistle could easily become established. These two weeds are almost impossible to control, and if introduced, could convert thousands of acres of quality habitat into poor range in just a few years. All WMA users should check for and remove any noxious weed seeds found on vehicles, clothing, pets and livestock before entering the WMA.
The entire WMA is open year-round to non-motorized public use. Roads are open to motor vehicles, except between January 1 and May 1. This closure protects wintering big game and prevents road damage during wet winter weather. All WMA roads are gated, and the amount of vehicle traffic on each is regulated by a gate key checkout system. A limited number of keys per gate are available each day on a first come/first serve basis. This prevents overcrowding and results in a high quality motorized recreational experience.
Thousands of hunters are drawn to the WMA each year. Chukars are the most popular quarry, and hunters come from all over the United States and occasionally foreign countries to pursue these cunning birds. The WMA also receives heavy deer hunting pressure during the general deer season. Yearling bucks are most commonly harvested, as the older bucks are generally not on the WMA until after heavy winter snows arrive. Spring and fall wild turkey hunting is also popular on the WMA and adjacent Forest Service lands. Because of the WMA's popularity, hunters should expect to encounter other sportsmen in the field. Crowding can occur, especially during the popular opening weeks and weekends of turkey, chukar and deer seasons. Being respectful and courteous of other users in the field can insure that everyone has an enjoyable experience. And remember to pick up used shotgun shells in the field and dispose of them in a trash container!
Camping is only permitted at the mouth of Brownlee Creek and on pullouts along the Forest Service road 085 on the WMA. There are no developed campsites on the WMA; all camping is primitive. The Forest Service has a campground just off Highway 71 on the Brownlee Guard Station Road, and Idaho Power has a full facility campground at Woodhead Park on Brownlee Reservoir.
For more information regarding the Andrus WMA, please call 208-257-3363.