BOISE — An invasion of elk in parts of Elmore County has caused ranchers there to turn to state lawmakers for help.
A group of ranchers visited the Statehouse Jan. 15 to ask legislators and state officials to help them deal with the thousands of elk that have set up residence on their land in recent years.
According to the ranchers, who are mostly from the Mayfield area southeast of Boise, more than 4,000 elk have invaded the area.
Idaho Fish and Game Department officials said several large wildfires in the region and the presence of wolves in higher country are two of the main reasons the elk have moved to the area in large numbers.
Rancher Jeff Lord told members of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee that the elk are eating at the ranchers’ expense and they damage spring and winter range.
“If we can’t solve this problem, we need to be compensated,” he said. “I don’t want to be a winter elk feed provider. I want to be a rancher.”
Lord said his family has ranched in Mayfield since 1945 and the first elk in the area were seen in 1977.
“Since then, the numbers have increased dramatically,” he said.
Rancher Steve Damele said herds of up to 800 elk are going back and forth across private land, causing serious damage in the form of destroyed fences, degraded range and lost feed.
“The economic loss is substantial,” he said. “The ranchers in this area are united in this effort and ready for a long-term solution.”
The ranchers were invited to the Statehouse by Sen. Bert Brackett, a Republican rancher from that district.
Three of the nine committee members are ranchers and a fourth is a farmer.
“The numbers (of elk) keep increasing and they’re looking for some answers,” Brackett told his fellow committee members.
Rancher Mike Grimmett said 500 to 1,500 elk cross his ranch on any given day and their numbers are growing steadily.
“As you can imagine, I’m feeding a lot of the state’s animals,” he said. “It’s an ongoing cost. We want to make sure our concerns are heard and we want to figure out a way to fix this problem.”
Scott Reinecker, IFGD’s southwest region supervisor, said the department has used several strategies to try to address the problem, including landowner appreciation hunts and depredation hunts.
But he acknowledged they haven’t been enough.
“We definitely do need to do more,” he said. “We’re going to try to do what we can.”
Sen. Monty Pearce, the committee chairman and a rancher from New Plymouth, told Reinecker that it’s apparent the things the department has done in the past to control elk populations in certain areas aren’t working in this case.
“It sounds like we need to think out of the box,” he said. “I think this needs to be put on the front burner.”