Winter feeding operations for elk at Commission-approved feed sites in the South Fork of the Boise River drainage have brought in a significant number of elkÉ and some wolves.
In spite of widespread concerns that many of the elk in unit 43 winter-killed last year, and in spite of numerous complaints of "no elk" in that unit from some hunters last fall, a total of 700+ elk have been counted at five feed sites in the South Fork drainage. Numbers of elk continue to increase, as we approach the maximum number of elk fed last winter --- 725. Telephone survey data for unit 43 shows that hunter success was near 15%, for bulls and cows, for both 1998 and 1999.
Feeding operations began on January 13 at Big Smoky, Lick Creek and Lightfoot Bar because of snow accumulation and the lack of snow-free south facing slopes. Workers started feeding elk in the Featherville area on January 12. In the Warm Springs drainage west of Ketchum, we began feeding elk at Bullwhacker on January 29, mostly out of concerns for elk getting onto the roadway.
These feed sites, which unnaturally concentrate elk that would ordinarily be spread out over their winter range, now have a totally new dimension --- gray wolves. To date, we have verified four wolf kills. There have been three in Lick Creek and one in Little Smoky Creek; there is not a feed site in the Little Smoky drainage.
Approximately 120 elk feeding at Lick Creek were displaced to the Big Smoky feed site, but a few brave stragglers have returned. Greg Wooten, Senior Conservation Officer from Fairfield, found fresh wolf tracks on the south side of Couch Summit on February 2. Wolf tracks have also been noted at the Lightfoot Bar feed site, but no elk have been killed there.
Wooten advised the wolves devour the entire animal, usually leaving only the hide and legs up to the first joint. Three of the four calf mortalities at Lick Creek were all wolf kills. The wolf kill in Little Smoky drainage was also a calf. Wooten stated the body condition of all elk in the unit is very good.
On Monday, January 31, the contract feeder saw two light colored wolves in Lick Creek. This office has received other reports of wolf sightings in the region. Wolf tracks were documented at the Big Smoky feed site in the winter of 1998-99.
Wolf sightings in the Magic Valley Region should be reported to Roy Heberger, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Boise, at 378-5347.