The Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced Monday that staff began feeding elk at Bullwhacker feed station west of Board Ranch on Thursday in an effort to keep herds away from Warm Springs neighborhoods.
This site, which dates back from the 1950s and has been used every winter since the 1980s, feeds between 120 and 180 elk each winter.
Fish and Game reports that feeding usually begins in late December, early January, and lasts until spring. Feed schedules can be adjusted according to snow accumulations and temperatures, as well as the availability of natural forage. The department allocates between 6 to 10 pounds of alfalfa per animal per day.
Fish and Game stated that feed sites are often viewed as a way to provide winter food, but the Bullwacker feed site’s purpose is to attract elk away to local communities.
The department has stopped feeding in the past when snow starts to melt on the south-facing slopes. Fish and Game said that this should occur around April 2022.
The department hopes to avoid a number of human-wildlife conflicts by creating the feed site. These include elk being hit on roads and highways, getting caught in fences, falling through thin-ice decorative ponds and into homes window wells, and elk being chased by off-leash dog and tangled up in swing sets or hammocks.
Fish and Game stated that the U.S. Forest Service has imposed yearly winter closures. The areas north of Warm Springs Road within the Warm Springs drainage and West Fork Warm Springs east of Ketchum will be closed until May 1.
The department stated that residents and visitors are asked not to disturb the elk.
The controversy surrounding feeding site was a matter of contention
In the winter of 2015-2016, 43 bull elk perished at Bullwhacker. A dozen of these mountain lions had been sleeping in the shed.
Fish and Game attributed the high rate of mortality that year to food aggression, larger elk keeping calves away from the food bins and predators attracted to the feed. According to Fish and Game, two employees who were responsible for managing the site didn’t provide regular reports and weren’t properly supervised.
Fish and Game renovated this site in the fall 2016 by replacing the oldwooden shed with an older pest-resistant steel shed and expanding the feeding area to approximately two acres by clearing trees and other rocks.