cow elk

A captured cow elk waits in a pen during trapping operations held last fall in the Little Camas region.

Once again Idaho Fish and Game hopes to utilize the unusual tactic of capturing dozens of marauding elk in the Magic Valley area and relocating them to more remote areas away from private farmland next week.

The operation was tried last fall and, despite hopes of capturing 70 cows and calves in the area between Little Camas Reservoir and Anderson Ranch Reservoir north of Mountain Home, only 16 elk were grabbed and relocated.

“Trapping efforts are aimed at reducing the size of the elk herd that has a long history of living almost exclusively on private property and depredating on agricultural crops leading to significant and expensive depredation claims,” Fish and Game said in a news release.

The operation will set up a more than half-mile-long fence to funnel the big game to a corral where trapped elk will be tagged, collared and loaded onto a trailer for transport to the Grandjean area west of Stanley. A helicopter, supported by ATV and dirt bike riders, is used to push the elk into the trap.

Last fall, elk were transported to the Bruce Meadows area about 20 miles northwest of Stanley, but that higher elevation area is still under snow in May with poor access.

Once again, Fish and Game will be renting a large trailer from the Siddoway elk ranch of East Idaho to transport elk that are captured.

The operation is part of Fish and Game’s effort to remove pesky elk off farms that have been plagued with depredation problems. Fish and Game said the elk numbers are above target goals and have caused tens of thousands of dollars in crop damages.

“A few years ago we had a claim of over $1 million dollars and each of the years since it’s decreased,” said Craig White, Idaho Fish and Game supervisor at the Magic Valley office. “Each year we’ve seen it decrease in the amount of damage and subsequently the amount of claim that needed to be paid out.”

Terry Thompson, regional communications manager, said the $1 million dollar claim was paid out in 2018 but after intense efforts to manage the elk, depredation claims dropped each year since to $64,000 in 2020.

White said in addition to relocating elk, Fish and Game also has issued more hunting tags, hazed elk and used sharp-shooters to reduce their numbers. This year, numbers have been reduced to the point that extra measures have been curtailed.

White was confident that the relocation operation would be successful.

“We talked with (Jeff) Siddoway who helped us last year,” White said. “We picked his brain and learned from our own experience on what went well and what didn’t. We’ve extended the wings on our traps up the hillside a bit. We’ve gotten better with herding them with the ATVs and motorcycles. Our experience has gotten better.”

Thompson said the operation has added an extra third of a mile to the fence line to help funnel the elk.

Last fall, White said the elk were getting smarter as the operation progressed and learned how to play the game.

“Not every push was successful because these are wild animals and they have a mind of their own,” he said. “It’s worse than herding cats. I think our largest group that came through was about four or five.”

Fish and Game will radio collar some of the captured elk to track their movements and make sure they don’t return to the Little Camas area.

Any elk that die during the operation “will be immediately field dressed and all meat will be professionally processed and then donated to Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry for distribution to area food pantries,” Fish and Game said. No elk were injured or killed during trapping efforts in 2020.