Idaho wildlife officials criticized for elk hunt


BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Officials at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are being criticized for taking part in a research project that led to the killing of 206 elk across southern Idaho from Pocatello to Nampa in an attempt to learn more about how to control damage from elk herds.

The hunting and fishing group Idaho For Wildlife recently posted photos online of butchered elk quarters stacked on pallets, drawing attention to the hunt that happened between July and October of 2019, the Idaho Statesman reported on Saturday.

Steve Alder, with Idaho For Wildlife, called the study “atrocious” and blasted the agency for its lack of transparency about the hunt, which occurred on private properties, often at night.

“I don’t think we need a study,” he said. “I don’t have any faith in (Fish and Game or the University of Idaho).”

Mike McDonald, regional wildlife manager for the agency’s Magic Valley region, told the newspaper that the elk killed represent less than 1% of the population in the area. He says the hunt was part of a University of Idaho graduate student’s research on deterring elk, which are causing more and more property damage to private landowners.

Last year, the state paid $1.5 million to property owners in the Magic Valley region to settle nearly 20 damage claims from elk herds.

The project included four “treatments” for elk depredation: deterring the elk by using fences, driving them away with hounds, spraying a non-toxic but bitter-tasting substance on crops and shooting and killing some members of herds, McDonald said.

In all, 206 elk were shot and killed on private property in multiple hunting units by the graduate student and Fish and Game technicians, McDonald said. Since some of the animals had begun grazing exclusively at night to avoid previous deterrents, the hunts happened at night.

McDonald said, at most, six animals were killed in one night at one location. Meat from the animals was processed by a butcher and distributed to food banks.

Fish and Game won’t know the outcome of the study until the student, who wasn’t identified by the agency, finishes his research this spring or summer.