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Idaho Ramps Up Winter Feeding Program

January 6, 2009.

From Idaho Fish and Game:

Idaho Fish and Game has begun emergency winter feeding of elk in one area and geared up to start in other parts of the state if conditions demand it.        

Feeding already has started on Warm Springs Creek near Ketchum where snow conditions and diminished winter range make survival for elk difficult.

In other areas of Idaho, Fish and Game is monitoring snow depth and other criteria for emergency winter feeding of big game.

State game manager Brad Compton said feed pellets and hay have been secured, and feeding advisory committees are being consulted in all areas where feeding operations have been conducted in past winters. The residents' committees, established in 1994 by the Legislature, set criteria for feeding and help Fish and Game decide when to start operations.

Funding for feeding comes from a dedicated account using a portion of big game tag fees. Fish and Game regional supervisors make the final decision on when emergency conditions exist and to start feeding.

None of the committees has declared an emergency yet.

Feeding operations "are carefully calculated, not willy-nilly," Compton said. Local conditions vary widely across the state, he noted, and local people are best at deciding the details of feeding operations.

Compton said he anticipates more emergency winter feeding beginning soon if the current weather pattern persists.

Fish and Game and local committees take considerable care in decisions about feeding because the practice presents "some challenges," Compton said. Among those challenges are the possibilities of increased disease transmission, short-stopping of migrations, concentration of predators and damage to local habitats from concentrated browsing.

Compton cautioned that winter feeding does not prevent some mortality, particularly among young animals, but can raise survival rates of adult animals.

The biggest factor in winter survival of big game animals is the body condition they carry into the season. Compton said check station data in the fall hunting seasons showed generally good body condition of harvested animals across most of the state.

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