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Locals concerned about winter wildlife

Idaho Fish and Game said it’s currently feeding about 20,000 big game this winter. It said its the largest feeding operation in southern Idaho in 20 years.

But some who live in the region are wondering if it’s enough or if something more can’t be done.

Kat Whitnah is very concerned about some local deer she’s been seeing in Pocatello. She said she saw a herd near the airport off I-84 that seemed to be in pretty bad shape. She also said she’s seen some near the Portneuf Gap that seem to be struggling.

“My biggest concern at this point is the shape of the deer,” Whitnah said. “And them coming down so low. This is an extremely hard winter. They’re coming down so low, not by choice – they’re looking for any kind of food they can find.”

But even though some locals are concerned, Fish and Game said the Pocatello region is doing well.

“Here in the Pocatello/Chubbuck area, we really don’t have the same winter that they’re experiencing in other parts of the region,” said Jennifer Jackson, regional educator for Idaho Fish and Game. “We do have some snow depths that are more extreme than we’ve had in years past, we have seen some colder temperatures this winter, but in spite of that, the animals in the Pocatello area are actually doing quite well on the landscape that they have.”

Jackson said the Pocatello area is not in an emergency situation yet. But those locals concerned are wondering what exactly constitutes an emergency situation.

“We always look at body condition first, how do the animals look? We look at the amount of snow that’s on the ground,” Jackson said. “What are the daytime temperatures? We look at the condition of the range that they’re on, the area they’re in. So is all of their range covered in snow or has their range been compromised by a fire?”

Jackson said animals also adapt to winter. She said deer live off of the fat they’ve stored. She said their metabolism and mircobes in their stomach changes to compensate for the change in diet. She said deer need fewer calories in the winter as well.

So she said to conserve energy and not burn that fat quickly, deer tend to be more reserved and slow-moving. She said that could be why some people are seeing them laying in a field, not moving much. She also said deer can often go somewhere different from where they feed to rest. So if there is no food source nearby a herd, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not getting access to food.

Jackson said Fish and Game is monitoring the animals every day, including the areas Whitnah was most concerned about. She said if a situation changes and emergency feeding sites become necessary, Fish and Game can have food on the ground for them in 24 hours.

Jackson said there are a lot of factors to consider before establishing feeding sites. It can cause animals to become dependent, it can congregate the animals together causing disease and competition among the herd. She said it also attracts predators because of the large number. So she said they have to be very careful when selecting feeding sites. Currently, there are 110 across the state.

She said ultimately, it is whatever is best for the wildlife and Fish and Game takes that very seriously.

“If we make a choice not to feed, it’s because its what’s in their best interest,” Jackson said. “It’s not because we’re cold-hearted and we don’t care.”

Jackson said one problem they have seen is the deer coming down into town and on the roads. She said they have established 62 bait feeding sites around the region. Eight are in Bannock County. These sites are to try and draw animals from high-traffic areas and keep them off the road from getting hit.

She said Fish and Game has put up every deer sign they have to try and remind drivers to be careful and watch for wildlife.

Jackson said they want to remind the public not to feed deer themselves, because it do more harm than good to them. She also said to be mindful when driving.

She said there will be losses in population this winter, there always are. But Fish and Game is doing what it can to make sure animals in dire need are getting fed.

Any concerns or questions about areas can be directed to the Fish and Game office. You can also find their current feeding sites online here.

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