In a widespread social media post, Idaho Fish and Game was implicated in an elk massacre in southern Idaho.
The Facebook post prompted calls all day Monday to the game department. It shows a picture of elk quarters on stainless steel butcher racks with a caption that tells of 172 elk delivered to a Jerome, Idaho, meat cutter.
“By the Idaho Fish and Game after they hired hunters to kill them because of a depredation complaint from a farmer north of Shoshone,” according to the post.
The post questions IDFG’s motives.
“Why is Fish and Game trying to wipe out the elk herds,” according to the post. “The wolf is not the only problem we have in this state.”
Terry Thompson, the department’s communication manager in the Magic Valley where the bulk of the elk were killed by sharpshooters, said the department assisted a University of Idaho study that seeks to find the best way to keep elk from depredating farm fields.
Thompson said 206 elk were killed last year between July and October over five game management units including Unit 32 near Weiser, Units 44 and 45 near Fairfield, Unit 52 near Gooding and Unit 52A near Rupert.
The elk were killed in crops including alfalfa and standing corn by sharpshooters at night, after hazing efforts during the day prompted elk to change their habits and move into farm fields under the cover of darkness.
The meat was preserved in cold storage, processed and given to food banks.
The area of private lands as well as blocks of public land includes two zones — the Pioneer and Smoky Bennett zones — where elk numbers are estimated between 15,000 and 20,000 animals, and elk population goals are annually exceeded, according to Fish and Game.
Because populations annually outnumber objectives, IDFG has 2,500 over-the-counter cow tags available in both zones, Thompson said.
“When you start looking at population numbers, 206 out of 15,000 is a pretty small percentage,” Thompson said.
The study, which looks at how best to prevent elk depredation, also considered using hounds to drive elk from corn fields, using repellent on crops, and fence building. The result of the University of Idaho study will be published in the spring.
Thompson and Magic Valley Regional Fish and Game Wildlife Manager Mike McDonald said the 206 elk killed as part of the study likely had no effect on the health of the region’s elk herd.
“In the larger scheme of things, did we do long-term damage to the elk population here?” Thompson said. “Not at all.”
He said the department is legally bound to manage wildlife in a way that doesn’t adversely affect agriculture.
“It’s in the best interest of sportsmen … and everybody, to come up with techniques,” that stem depredation, he said.
This story has been updated.