Ranchers plead for help managing wildlife

Area ranchers crowded into the courthouse on Tuesday to discuss solutions to the large herds of deer and elk damaging local farms, pastures and rangeland. Representatives from Fish and Game were also at the meeting to talk about the problem.

CASSIA – A standing room only crowd showed up at Tuesday’s Cassia County Commissioners meeting to find a solution to damaging herds of deer and elk. Ranchers showed up from as far as Grouse Creek, Park Valley and even Elko, in hopes of solving the problems created by wildlife on their farms, pastures and rangeland.

Several Fish and Game representatives were at the meeting to hear about the problems first hand. Idaho Fish and Game representative Jerome Hansen told the audience he was listening to their concerns and was willing to work toward a solution. He agreed with farmers and ranchers who say the lack of a coordinated hunt simply allowed deer and elk to migrate into areas with different hunting seasons.

If Idaho, Nevada and Utah were to coordinate their hunts it would contribute greatly to the success of the hunters, reducing the herd, said Hansen, but he admits convincing all three states to get together will be a big challenge.

Hansen reminded the group that hunting is good for counties, bringing in revenue from hunters. He acknowledges his greatest challenge is to help land owners feel better about growing elk herds.

In Nevada, ranchers are able to apply for depredation tags they can sell to hunters, some selling for thousands of dollars, helping land owners recoup lost income from elk herds grazing on their crops. Utah and Idaho do not allow depredation tags to be sold by landowners.

Sportsman Jack Oyler said he grew up on the south end of the Black Pine Mountains. “There are twenty times less deer than when I grew up,” he told the group. “Back then the biggest problem was jackrabbits. We’d give the first two rounds of the fields to the rabbits, we shot them, poisoned them, and injected them,” said Oyler.

He spoke of community rabbit drives where they could kill 10,000 jackrabbits in a drive, trucking the corpses to Brigham City to feed to the mink. “We all needed to take care of our own interests,” said Oyler.

He spoke of the natural migration routes used by deer and how they were disrupted when the interstate was put in. Idaho has never done anything about it, said Oyler.

Representative Scott Bedke, a Goose Creek Rancher, said he has land in Idaho, Utah and Nevada. “Nevada is more progressive in giving [depredation] tags to landowners to sell, but not enough animals are taken,” said Bedke. He also spoke what others were thinking when he said they want to be selective about which sportsmen they allow on their private land.

Cliff Bedke’s concern is that the Fish and Game representatives aren’t honest about the deer and elk problems. He said the BLM complains about overgrazing but isn’t willing to admit that wildlife accounts for much of the overgrazing.  A Park Valley rancher agreed, saying he has seen ‘agency’ personnel chase off the deer in an area the day before the hunt.

Grouse Creek rancher Jay Tanner said elk first appeared in his area in the late 80’s. He said Western Box Elder County was supposed to have 150 elk but this spring biologists counted more than 600. In Nevada they say the herd should have a maximum size of 1,100, but more than 1,800 elk are actually in the area. “If I ran that many extra cattle, I would be in jail,” he said. Why then is the Fish and Game allowed to run more elk than the management plan calls for?

“I don’t propose we eliminate all the elk, we just need to work together to get the numbers where we agreed,” he told the group.

Box Elder County Commissioner LuAnn Adams joked that the State of Utah was concerned when it heard she was coming to this meeting. A rancher and sportsman herself, Adams said there are only so many animal feeding units (AFU’s). “Each of the three states point at the others,” she said. Large deer or elk herds can graze large areas down and are often competing with cattle for forage.

Speaking of needed legislation, Representative Scott Bedke said there needs to be more language saying “the Fish and Game SHALL . . . . “. They hate that language, said Bedke.

Elko County Commissioner Jeff Williams said Nevada is new to the elk situation. “It’s a learning situation,” he said. Williams also told the group Nevada is working to control the raven population to ease pressure on the sage grouse. Ravens seek out sage grouse nests and eat the eggs, which impacts the population.

“We need to stay focused on the sage grouse. It would be devastating to all if it was listed as an endangered species,” said Williams.

Jerome Hansen of the Idaho Fish and Game said his agency is working on a ten year plan for elk management. He said the elk population doesn’t really have a natural predator in Southern Idaho, so habitat and social tolerance were the two main factors controlling the elk population here.

Hansen admitted that one of his chief duties is to help landowners feel better about elk.

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