Starting in about a week, biologists will attempt to outfit elk with the tracking collars by luring individual animals into traps baited with hay. If successful, the trapping effort will reduce the amount of time biologists spend attempting to tranquilize elk with darts shot from helicopters and also reduce the departments flying bill.
That is one of the reasons we are trying it, to reduce flying time. That is probably the main reason, said research biologist Jon Horne.
The Clearwater Region of Idaho Fish and Game has lost three employees to helicopter crashes in the past 13 years and seen at least three others injured.
But the trapping effort, even if it works, wont eliminate the need for helicopters. Biologists will still log flight time while conducting annual surveys. This winter, that work will include efforts to dart wolves and fit them with radio collars. If possible, moose will also be captured and fitted with collars.
Its all part of a multiyear study trying to figure out the different causes of elk mortality in places like the Lolo zone, where elk have been struggling for more than a decade. Horne said this winter, the study will focus in part on snow depth and how it relates to elk mortality.
The deeper the snow, the higher the chances they have of dying, Horne said.
Past studies have shown deep snow makes it tougher for elk to find food and also makes it easier for predators like wolves to hunt them.