Idaho F&G Feeding 20,000 Big Game Animals

While ACHD commishes and Boise’s Team Dave are fighting about snow removal, Idaho Fish and Game staffers are in the midst of the largest wild animal feeding effort in more than two decades.

Wildlife managers estimate the department is feeding about 10,000 mule deer, nearly 10,000 elk and about 100 pronghorn at various feeding sites throughout the state. F&G is expecting to spend $650,000 to feed big game this winter. The department spent $387,000 in 2008, which as the last big year for winter feeding.

Here is the F&G account of the effort.

This winter’s cold temperatures and deep snow at low elevations has prompted Idaho Fish and Game to implement emergency big game feeding at nearly 110 locations across southern and eastern Idaho. Winter conditions in the Panhandle, Clearwater and Salmon areas are closer to normal so emergency feeding is not necessary there, but animals and weather conditions continue to be monitored to see if more feeding is needed.

“Winter feeding is a big deal for us right now,” said Fish and Game Deputy Director Ed Schriever. “This is a winter like we haven’t experienced in about 20 years in southern Idaho.”

Wildlife managers estimate the department is feeding about 10,000 mule deer, nearly 10,000 elk and about 100 pronghorn at various feeding sites throughout the state. F&G is expecting to spend $650,000 to feed big game this winter. The department spent $387,000 in 2008, which as the last big year for winter feeding.

Emergency feeding has several goals, including helping some animals get through winter, particularly mule deer, and keeping wildlife away from agriculture operations, highways and populated areas where they can be hazards or nuisances. Fish and Game has in several cases successfully herded large elk herds away from agricultural lands and highways into suitable winter range.

Fish and Game is currently monitoring nearly 1,700 radio-collared deer and elk, including adults, calves and fawns. Game managers have real-time data on the survival of those animals, which provides valuable information about the larger populations.

Wildlife managers expect there will be losses due to winter kill this year and likely more than in recent years, partly because the last four winters have been relatively mild. Managers are monitoring herds, but much of the mortality occurs in late winter and into early spring.

“We are anticipating experiencing some winter mortality despite feeding,” State Game Manager Jon Rachael said. “We do not have a prediction at this stage how many deer we expect to lose this winter.”

Wildlife managers are most concerned about mule deer herds because southern Idaho has record accumulations of snow at low elevations and persistent cold temperatures where deer winter. Deep, crusty snow and frigid temperatures makes it difficult for deer to feed on natural forage and also taxes their limited fat reserves.

Mule deer fawns have the most difficulty surviving winter because they’re the smallest animals in the herd and carry the least amount of fat. The primary determinate of winter survival is fawn weight coming into winter. Winter feeding has a very limited effect on fawn survival, and being the smallest, they often have difficulty competing for feed.

Even in severe winters, statewide doe survival typically exceeds 90 percent, however, some herds may have more animals succumb to winter kill. Older, post-breeding age does are the adults most likely to die during winter, but the majority of breeding does are expected to survive.

Elk are hardier than deer and less prone to winter kill, however, we are feeding them in many locations to keep large herds away from private lands, particularly agriculture lands, and also away from highways.

Fish and Game is working with private land owners to help mitigate and compensate for losses from wintering wildlife. In 2016, Fish and Game paid to construct about 100 enclosures to protect haystacks from big game. Those efforts appear to be paying off. The department has also distributed thousands of panels and rolls of temporary fencing to land owners to keep deer, elk and antelope out of hay stacks.
For more information, go to our winter feeding page, which includes regional updates.

Photo credits: Idaho Fish and Game

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Given the size of the feeding program and the cost, how about a surcharge on all big game tags this year to offset the cost of the feeding program. The legislature is in session and this seems like a no brainer to me. A few bucks to save a lot of bucks when you think about it.

  2. Darwin rolls in grave
    Feb 1, 2017, 5:10 pm

    Glad we are so intelligent as to be able to circumvent the messy process of natural selection. Managing nature for fun and profit should have no downside at all.

  3. Feeding the wild animals
    Feb 1, 2017, 8:54 pm

    If we didn’t feed them would they die, or slim down until they could find food? Of course some of both.

    What if we fed all the people who came down the mountain? (poetry)

    I don’t know much about wildlife management, but I my friends am starting a franchise.

  4. Not a new thing. We have been doing this for years.

  5. Dave Kangas
    Feb 2, 2017, 10:41 am

    As noted in the article feeding is required to limit animal car collisions and to keep them away from farmers hay stacks and fields. Elk can do a lot of damage very quickly. Yes, it is also to maintain the population. The public and the sportsman of Idaho would not respond very well to massive die offs. Feeding also needs to begin early for the animals to adapt to the feed and before they are in too bad of condition.

    Yes, the legislature is in session and for the 4th year in a row it is finding a way not to approve IDFG’s requested fee increase. IDFG has not increased their fee’s since 2005. The increase would raise approximately $1M annually to fund wildlife operations like feeding, depredation issues on private land, research.. etc..

    IDFG needs your support to get the increase passed.

  6. The heard is not healthy
    Feb 2, 2017, 11:08 am

    Terrible winters and wolves are how mother nature keeps the heard healthy.
    By feeding and pampering we are essentially domesticating the wild heard.
    With domestication, expect all the inherent weaknesses to surface such as disease and genetic anomaly.

    I stopped hunting when it became clear the nation’s natural resource managers were not fully disclosing the extent of mad cow type diseases carried by the wild heard.

    Is the hunter you know a bit slow? http://huntingwithnonlead.org/lead_in_meat.html

  7. Herd feeding
    Feb 3, 2017, 7:30 pm

    Dave Kangas,
    The idea of keeping animals off the road is not one I had considered. But the response to massive die off’s realistically should be that it is the natural order. Do humans pay to increase herds so we can kill and eat them? Why is there no increase for IDFG?

  8. Dave Kangas
    Feb 4, 2017, 11:39 am

    Biologists at IDFG determine optimum herd size and makeup (bull-cows and buck-does ratios) according to habitat, accessibility and hunter input. They have goals for each region. Some area managed for production and family hunting opportunity. Other areas are managed more for more mature bucks and bulls. Almost every area has opportunity for cows and does to keep the population in check.When I grew up in the 70’s and 80′ feeding was a normal event demanded by hunters to keep population stable and avoid the huge swings after large winter die offs. Now, most game management agencies avoid feeding except in extreme weather conditions like we have now. They also use as a tool to keep wintering animals away from busy roads and to draw them away from farmers fields and hay stacks(depredation issues). This is why winter range and wildlife management areas are so critical. Each year, due to growth, new development reduces their habitat. IMO, th reason that the fee increases have been granted, is that some in the legislature want IDFG to change their policies and hunt structure for controlled hunts and offer more auction tags. However, the hunters have spoken very strongly against those proposals. It feels like the legislature is blaming IDFG for it and now won’t grant the increase out of spite. This is one of the reasons that Gov Otter did not reappoint 2 game commissioners this year.

  9. The public’s definition of a starving deer or elk: “one standing in the snow!”

  10. Pete Ellsworth
    Mar 19, 2017, 12:30 am

    Interesting comments from a month ago.
    Let me just pick a couple.
    “By feeding and pampering we are essentially domesticating the wild heard” This is totally false statement and there are many things that prove it. Since the writer admitted he is not longer a hunter I will not waste time trying to explain to him the need for game management which is what the IDFG is supposed to do. Doing nothing is not management.
    “IDFG has not increased their fee’s since 2005.” According to what I just read from the IDFG website they have increased non-resident tags and fees much more recently than 2005. Charging a higher price for a vastly inferior product is a good way for any business to fail!
    “Given the size of the feeding program and the cost, how about a surcharge on all big game tags this year to offset the cost of the feeding program.” Flyhead are you aware of the already $2 per licence that have been “dedicated” from sportsmen licence dollars since the 1960″s? Those dollars were already “ear marked” for winter feeding by Idaho sportsmen and the legislature. But the IDFG have been using those dollars for any project they wanted if they weren’t used in the year they were collected. So there should be hundred of thousands of of sportsmen dollars already in the IDFG winter feeding funds if the IDG had not already been raiding them. Instead of using those dollars for other projects when they weren’t used in that year. This was a primary example of why the IDFG is reluctant to spend money feeding in any year. They prefer to pay more biologists to tell sportsmen there are fewer elk to hunt than to feed them in the severe winters so there are some to left to hunt.
    I don’t know what the public’s definition of starving deer and elk is but I can assure you that in the winter of 96 while cougar hunting every week in Unit 12 I was finding starved to death elk in December. I had never seen it before and fortunately haven’t seen it since. This winters snow depth and cold is one of the worst in many parts of Idaho in the past 20 years. It might be advisable to check the fat content of the bone marrow of dead deer and elk before dismissing what the “hunting” public thinks?
    The arrogance of the IDFG may have more to do with why they are in the financial problems they have right now. Let me explain what I mean.
    They have done a very poor job of predator management, they were too intent on selling more tags in many areas and they over harvested the deer and elk herds. They have failed in many areas to winter feed to keep the core population of mule deer and elk from catastrophic decline.
    These are not some obscure thoughts they are based using the results of IDFG own numbers on herd populations.
    I will refer to a statement made by the IDFG after the winter of 1996. “We have had a 50% winter die-off of the elk herds in GMU’s 10, 12 and 17.” So the question is how have they recovered? Those GMU’s continue to go downhill each year. The core population is now too low to recover. Hunter harvest is so low it is almost now a non-factor. The IDFG did too little and now it is too late for normal recovery to take place.
    IDFG did no winter feeding in 1996 in those GMU’s, in fact to my knowledge, they have done zero winter feeding in all of Region 2 since the 1950’s.
    Sad to say the Lochsa-Selway elk herd that GMU’s 10, 12 17 make us were once home to the “largest elk herd in the world” according to Jack O’conner. I elk hunted in unit 12 for over 40 years but I haven’t elk hunted there in the past 10 years. I still hunt in Unit 12 and 10 and try to removed some of the large predators; wolves, cougars and bears always hopefully with some actual aggressive game management the elk and mule deer will come back.
    I think of what would happen to a rancher if he didn’t feed his horses or cows in severe winters. I am not sure which would happen first. People would see the neglect and call animal welfare people and the animals would be taken away from him due to his lack of care. Or he would soon quickly be bankrupt and out of business because he would soon have no animals left to sell.
    IDFG can do just “let nature take its course” as some are suggesting and do nothing for the big game herds. Simply maintaining their low number levels of severe winters that happen about every 10 or 20 years in northern Idaho or they can actually manage and feed them in severe winters.
    I would go into the total lack of predator management by IDFG but to those that never saw the Idaho Snake and Salmon River mule deer herds of the 50’s and 60’s or the former Lochsa & Selway elk herds it would be pretty much a waste of time. Those that would like to compare the numbers can simply look them up for themselves. remembering the numbers that were counted in the 50’s and 60’s were counted by simply driving to a place and counting the animals there each time. This was to give a trend in what the herds were doing. Now we fly every drainage and count every animal and there are still far fewer in the total count in nearly every area than there were from the trend counts. In several places this is over 20 to 1 that is there now.
    Please now stand up and cheer for the fine job the IDFG has done in big game management. Sportsmen demanded the winter feeding program out of seeing the need and the IDFG has done just about everything they could to make it fail.

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