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Idaho Fish and Game

A group of deer in the City of Cascade approach the driver's side window of a vehicle during the winter of 2023.

Low-level flights to occur across the Magic Valley Region to assess big game populations


Low-level flying is necessary when collecting data on big game populations.

Wildlife biologists from the Magic Valley Region will be conducting low level helicopter flights across southern Idaho over the next several weeks. It is anticipated that the flights will continue into late January 2023. 

Biologists use winter-time flights to survey big game since wildlife is concentrated on their traditional winter ranges, making it much easier to get reliable data on population numbers and age and sex ratios.

The flights have a variety of purposes, all of which aid in the management of Idaho’s big game populations. Some flights gather herd composition information that helps game managers determine the number of bucks, does and fawns in a population. Other flights are intended to count animals in specific management units or groups of units, referred to as a sightability survey. These data are used to generate a population estimate. Data gathered from aerial surveys are crucial for determining the overall health of Idaho’s big game herds, which plays an important role in determining future hunting seasons.

Biologists can also use helicopters to capture animals, either using a net gun or by driving animals into a large net. Once captured animals are typically radio collared to help biologists monitor winter survival, identify cause-specific mortality, and document movement patterns and habitat use. Biological samples are also taken from captured animals to help determine body condition, to screen for disease, and to determine pregnancy rates of adult females.

“Over the next two months, flights will happen across the Magic Valley Region” according to Mike McDonald, Regional Wildlife Manager, “in December most of the flights will focus on herd composition, in our southern-most game management units. Then, we’ll transition to mule deer, elk, and pronghorn capture operations throughout the region and a deer abundance survey in the South Hills, Albion Mountains, and Jim Sage areas in mid- to late January.”

When conducting population surveys or capture operations biologists take precautions to minimize disturbances caused to the animals, which limits their expenditure of valuable energy reserves.  Sometimes we are asked why disturb big game with helicopters when you ask the public to avoid or not recreate on big game winter range. It's a great question. The brief disturbance from these flights and associated activities are limited to typically minutes or hours that has little or no cumulative impact. Whereas repeated daily or weekly disturbance from some activities result in negative cumulative impact.

For more information about wildlife surveys contact the Magic Valley Region at (208) 324-4359.