Courtesy of Steve Ritter
SALMON, Idaho — Elk herds have already started eating away at Lowell Cerise’s profit margins, arriving in his fields at night to feed on the regrowth of his third hay crop.
The Salmon-area rancher says he’s been pleased by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s efforts to protect ranchers from elk populations that have grown too large in many of the state’s agricultural areas. But based on what he’s seen on his own ranch, Cerise believes it will take years of work to get the problem under control.
Early this year, IDFG imposed a new fee on hunting, fishing and trapping licenses — $5 for residents and $10 for nonresidents. The department will divide $1 million of the annual revenue between a fund to compensate landowners for depredation and preventative efforts, such as buying materials for permanent fencing around hay stacks. But IDFG leaders acknowledge the new funds are just a “first step.”
Each region has also been awarded funds to hire a full-time technician to deal with depredation issues, and IDFG leaders vow to provide landowners more assistance in coordinating with sportsmen on depredation hunts. Furthermore, IDFG has decided to be more “flexible” in awarding extra antler-less elk tags, which landowners facing depredation can give to hunters of their choosing.
“Last winter, those (extra elk tags) were basically the only tool we had to prevent these elk from integrating with cow herds and eating right with them during the day,” said Cerise, who has now built fencing around all of his haystacks, with IDFG assistance. “I feel like we’ve got good partners with Fish and Game.”
Jason Beck, with IDFG’s Southeast Region, said the special landowner tags were previously viewed as an option of last resort, but the department is now getting some of them issued on the same day that it receives applications. He also anticipates a doubling of stack yard construction as funds from the new bill trickle in next spring.
Jerry Meyers, an IDFG commissioner with the Salmon Region, attended a Sept. 19 tour that made stops in the Moore community center and ranches in Salmon and Challis to raise awareness about elk depredation, sponsored by Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.
“We’re taking aggressive steps to address our number of elk. Right now, we’re over our carrying capacity,” Meyers said, estimating it will take at least three to five years of focusing on problem elk populations near farm fields to get numbers in balance.
Meyers said IDFG biologists have also started identifying problem areas and coordinating with landowners in advance of problems. He said the Salmon region has hired a part-time technician to be a liaison between landowners and hunters. Cerise said coordinating with hunters can be like having a second job, at times.
Greg Painter, regional wildlife manager for the Salmon Region, said he hired the part-time technician a week ago for a “trial” he anticipates other regions will watch closely.
“That could be a big savings of in time and effort,” Painter said.
Farm Bureau spokesman John Thompson said several ranchers, IDFG officials and lawmaker participated in his organization’s recent tour, emphasizing that the state shouldn’t lose sight of the challenges ranchers face with wildlife simply because more funding has been approved.
“We want to make certain they understand the magnitude of the problem, that ranches are being threatened and our people can’t afford to continue feeding the state’s elk,” Thompson said.