CARIBOU COUNTY — Hay in a feed line for elk can be like ice cream in a sea of carrots, according to the Idaho Department of Fish of Fish and Game, and last week the department had to use that special treat to draw 200 elk away from a cattle operation.
It was critical that the elk were baited away to alleviate interaction between them and the cattle. So the IDFG worked with the Idaho Winter Feeding Advisory Committee to set up a bait site.
A snow machine with a sled of hay was then used to spread out the bait line and draw the elk away from Caribou County landowner’s property.
“Elk are often times attracted to private property, especially in the winter time when there might be haystacks, or in this case, there is a cattle operation with a feed line,” says IDFG Southeast Region Communications Manager Jennifer Jackson.
The first problem crews needed to solve with the elk and cattle interaction was to protect the landowner’s feed, according to Jackson. The second issue is a disease called brucellosis that can be transmitted between elk and cattle. This can cause pregnant animals to abort their young.
“It’s just a good idea not to have cattle and elk hanging out right next to each other,” Jackson says. “You just don’t want to see that being shared amongst animals.”
Jackson says they baited the elk with “good feed” that isn’t dangerous for their digestive systems. She says crews take caution what they feed the animals during the winter months because the bacteria in their stomachs is different than during summer months. They don’t give the elk food that’s green or leafy.
“That was set up as part of evolution because obviously there’s not a lot of green grass and green leafy vegetation in the winter months,” Jackson says.
In the wintertime, mule deer and elk are living off of their fat reserve and they generally feed on sagebrush and other vegetation.
Jackson says sometimes haystacks or feedlines can attract more animals than bargained for and 10 or 20 elk can quickly become 200. IDFG tries to minimize how often they use feed lines like this.
“Feeding animals is not ideal. There are a lot of problems associated with feeding wildlife, and so we don’t like to do it because it’s not what’s best for animals,” Jackson says.
She says if a conflict arises that can’t be resolved any other way, workers can make implement solutions to reduce problems and, like in this case, a bait site.
A couple of winters ago Jackson says there were high snow levels accompanied by low temperatures in the area so nearly 90 feed sites were set up in east Idaho.
“That was absolutely unheard of,” Jackson says. “That’s very rare… and we try not to feed because it’s just not in the best interest of wildlife.”
Jackson says the IDFG and the Winter Feeding Advisory Committee will be monitoring winter conditions before taking down the temporary bait site. She says workers will bait until conditions change such as the elk no longer being interested, they start pushing back up into higher country or snow recedes.
“It is the end of February but we’ve had a lot of recent snow and storms happening,” Jackson says. “We just take it day by day.”