BOISE — Ranchers in the Mayfield area southeast of Boise have turned to state lawmakers for help in dealing with an invasion of elk they say is threatening their livelihoods.
Iron Horse Ranch owner John McCallum told members of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee March 12 that ranchers in the area are providing 60-70 percent of the winter feed for 5,000-6,000 elk in that area.
He estimates its costing ranchers $432,000 a year for feed alone and doesn’t include the cost of crop, fence and land damage.
“You can see this has gotten to a point that we cannot run our ranches,” McCallum said.
McCallum said when 90 elk came onto his ranch in the Cold Springs and Bennett Creek areas in October 2000, “we thought this was great.”
“Now … the elk are in the thousands and they start arriving in September and stay until August,” he added.
A group of ranchers came to the Statehouse in January to speak with lawmakers about their concerns. The committee chairman, Sen. Monty Pearce, a Republican rancher from New Plymouth, told Idaho Fish & Game Department officials to work with them and find a solution.
Scott Reinecker, IFGD’s southwest region supervisor, told committee members March 12 that department employees have visited with each of the ranchers to determine the specific impacts the elk are having on their ranches.
He said the department is drafting an action plan to address the problem, which he said has been exacerbated by major wildfires in the area as well as wolves that are pushing the elk that way.
In a March 4 letter to lawmakers, IFGD Director Virgil Moore updated them about actions the department has undertaken to try to help private landowners in the Mayfield area.
Moore said last year’s large Elk and Pony Complex fires “will affect domestic livestock grazing allowances and forage availability for wildlife, exacerbating the concern about wildlife damage to private land forage and fences.”
He said the department’s draft action plan includes continuing to monitor elk numbers and big game trends in the area, developing forage enhancement cost-share projects with landowners that benefit both livestock and wildlife, and adjusting hunting seasons to increase ungulate harvests.
The plan also includes developing management strategies for each ranch and committing a dedicated employee to work directly with landowners on a day-to-day basis.
Rancher Mike Grimmett told lawmakers that fish and game’s efforts “have still not addressed the issues of our ranching operations.”
He said the dialogue with the department “is a positive first step, but to date no relief is in place.”
McCallum said the issue “needs to be handled through legislation.”
He said it would help if the department reduced wolf numbers, fed the elk away from the main wintering areas for livestock and farms, stopped the September hunting seasons in higher elevations and provide a way for the elk to cross Interstate 84.