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Elk get entangled, trapped around Idaho homes


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Four incidents of elk becoming entangled or trapped in window wells occurred over a single January weekend in Blaine County.

Over a two-day period, Fish and Game officers responded to four reports of elk becoming entangled in various materials or trapped in window wells in the southern Wood River Valley.

The first report came on the morning of Jan. 7, of a cow elk with some type of disc around its neck. Local Conservation Officer Brandyn Hurd located the elk but it moved into a large herd of elk, making it impossible to dart with anesthesia drugs. The elk will be monitored over the coming weeks.

A second report came in just hours after the first of a bull elk with baling twine wrapped around its antlers. Since the twine was not a threat to the health of the bull and its antlers will fall off in the coming weeks, no action was taken on this bull.

A third report came later that same day of a bull elk that had become entangled in a horse halter and lead rope. Wildlife biologists from the Magic Valley Region were able to successfully anesthetize the elk using a dart to safely remove the halter and lead from around its neck and antlers.

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Elk trapped inside a house after falling into an uncovered window well. | Courtesy Idaho Fish & Game

The fourth incident involved a cow elk falling into a window well of a home in Hailey. Due to the depth of the window well, the elk was unable to get itself out. Three local conservation officers were called in to help remove her from the window well. After a significant amount of work by the officers and the homeowner, the elk was safely removed from the well.

“These entanglement calls are a reminder to all valley residents to make sure that they wildlife-proof their homes and barns so that wildlife doesn’t get tangled in household or livestock equipment, and, homeowners should cover their window wells to help keep wildlife out of the deep wells,” said Senior Conservation Officer Brandyn Hurd. “We get these calls every year, especially in the winter when elk are moving through yards and pastures. Wildlife can easily get entangled in this equipment which puts the animal at risk, but it also puts the Fish and Game team at risk when using drugs to anesthetize the animal and working to free them.”

During the winter of 2020-2021, there were two incidents of a bull elk becoming entangled in a backyard hammock and swing. In the first incident, the bull almost drown in the Big Wood River due to the weight of the water-saturated hammock on its antlers. Fish and Game biologists successfully anesthetized the bull to remove the hammock. Several weeks later a bull had to be anesthetized to remove several feet of rope and wood from around its head.

Residents are encouraged to inspect their yards or barns for items that can ensnare wildlife and put everything away in their garage or other secure-storage area. Big game animals like deer, elk and moose are especially susceptible to entanglement in ropes, swings, wires, cords and strings of lights because of their large antlers. Entangled wildlife can sometimes asphyxiate, die from exhaustion or injure themselves in efforts to get free.

Many homes in the Wood River Valley have large egress window wells which have trapped at least three elk and moose since 2015. In 2015 an elk fell into a Hailey basement game room and became trapped inside the house, and in 2017 a moose and elk fell into window wells, resulting in both animals being trapped inside the houses.

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Elk, top, and moose trapped inside basement rooms after falling into window wells. | Courtesy Idaho Fish & Game

Both elk were able to be walked out of the houses, while the moose had to be anesthetized and carried out of the house.

Residents are encouraged to cover their window wells with either a metal fabricated cover or even wooded planks. Clearing snow from around window wells will also provide a pathway around window wells since elk or moose will follow the path of least resistance under the eaves of a house, inadvertently leading them to the window wells.

For more information about how to keep the area around your home safe for wildlife visit the Wood River Valley Wildlife Smart Communities website at or contact the Magic Valley Regional Office at (208) 324-4359.