East Idaho home to largest concentration of migratory moose
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ST. ANTHONY — The largest concentration of migratory moose known to state wildlife managers is in the Sand Creek Desert northwest of St. Anthony. Over 50 moose migrated from Big Bend Ridge across the Sand Creek Road in three days in late November to start the concentration.
“We really don’t know how many are out there, but during the elk surveys we have seen about 500 moose,” Curtis Hendricks, Regional Wildlife Manager said. “We don’t count them specifically, but we are unaware of any other concentration as large as here in this area.”
The moose are part of a large population of elk and deer that use the Sand Creek desert during the winter. Bitterbrush, sage brush, prickly-pear cactus and chokecherry trees are all part of a diet for these big game animals.
“The main reason these moose are drawn to this area is because of the habitat they find in the winter,” said Eric Anderson, a Regional Habitat Biologist stationed at Sand Creek Wildlife Management Area. “They migrate to the lower elevation where they can find food, shelter and space during the winter months.”
It was once thought most of the moose wintering on the desert migrated in early winter from Big Bend Ridge or further north. Through studies and surveys it was found that most of the moose located on the Snake River and Teton River corridors migrated north onto the desert.
“We really don’t know why, but we think they migrate north to get needed nutrition from the sage and bitter brush,” Hendricks said. “They follow their bellies and these migrations cause them to get in trouble as they follow the food corridors which brings some of them into towns and around people.”
Hendricks believes the population of moose on the desert is stable with small populations increasing in areas near Mackay and Copper Basin.
“Wolves have not been a mortality factor on the desert,” Hendricks said. “They may take some of the single individuals that stay high in Island Park, but they have not impacted the numbers that winter out on the desert.”
With the recent rapid snow melt, many of the moose will begin to migrate to the river bottoms, bringing them in contact with populated areas. They can be very dangerous and should be avoided even when they appear approachable. Fish and Game personnel or law enforcement should be contacted as they are paid to wrestle with large dangerous animals.
Hunting in the area is allowed by lottery permit only. In Area #60 where many of the moose migrate from 15 bull and five cow permits are issued and in 2014, 251 hunters applied for those 20 permits. The hunts were very successful with 19 animals harvested.
“If there are that many moose wintering on the desert, then maybe, the Fish and Game should increase the number of tags in that area,” Ryan Laird of Rexburg said. “My wife harvested a large bull several years ago as it migrated down to the desert. It would be a good way for them to get more money. Or if they increased the number of tags, they should go to a point system so those who have put in for years can have a good chance to draw a tag.”
Each hunter in Idaho is limited to harvesting one bull and one cow moose in their lifetime and if a person puts in for a moose tag, they cannot apply for any other big game lottery for that year.
It is also important to know that the area where the large numbers of moose are wintering are closed to all human activity until May 1 to protect all wintering big game.