Idaho Fish and Game’s largest big-game feeding operation this winter — and largest ever — is in the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area in East Idaho, a project that began before it started to snow.
The Tex Creek WMA was decimated by a wildfire that burned 22,000 acres last year, leaving little food for the 4,000 elk and 2,500 deer that use the area as winter range. Without assistance, the animals would have traveled 13 miles to an array of farm fields, haystacks, livestock yards, neighborhoods and towns — likely doing significant damage along the way.
“We knew if we didn’t feed, (the animals) would end up in places where they would be in trouble, causing depredations that would have been disastrous,” said Ed Schriever, the deputy director for operations at Fish and Game.
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So Fish and Game set up a feeding operation with the goal of keeping the animals on their traditional winter range. A total of 1,500 tons of hay was placed in a fenced-in stack yard, a hay shredder was acquired and three people were hired to run the operation through the winter. They started feeding up to 15 tons of hay a day on Dec. 7. The project is expected to cost $350,000 — more than the entire winter feeding budget for the year. Fish and Game tapped into its reserve of money from deer, elk and pronghorn tags earmarked for emergency winter feeding to cover the cost.
About 3,500 elk have stayed on the WMA, Fish and Game says. Deer, which don’t adapt to feeding operations as well, have moved on to other areas, including farm fields. But deer don’t cause as much damage to private property as elk.