Southeast Idaho Winter Update
By Jordan Breshears
This ongoing severe winter is not Idaho specific as Wyoming, Utah and Montana are all having their woes with a harsh late-winter and the subsequent devastation of big game herds and even livestock. With 180-240% snowpack, southeast Idaho is not seeing any relief as of currently which was our biggest fear moving into spring. None of us could have predicted this winter, in fact, IDFG had seen a solid rebound on the deer herds in southeast Idaho from the last major winter kills in 2017 and 2019. Several years have passed and fawn recruitment and overall deer numbers were looking up in a few areas according to IDFG’s Toby Boudreau, “Before this winter hit, we’d been seeing steady growth in mule deer herds in southeast Idaho. So much so that we were ready to propose additional antlerless hunt opportunities for the 2023 fall season.”
However, this hope quickly faded as early-winter showed up in full force and really hasn’t let up. This reality along with public concern being voiced, these antlerless opportunities were yet again tabled for a hopeful time in the future.
There are major concerns for fawn survival in particular. Average statewide fawn survival sits right around 35-40% and as of early-April we see statewide numbers near 55% and for southeast Idaho and are seeing 74-83% fawn mortality rates! The trouble is, we aren’t out of the woods yet. Hopefully we are safe to say the worst is behind us, but it is much too soon for that to be for sure. Snowstorms continue to hit hard throughout the West and temps are not up to levels that allow us to sigh with relief. Only time will tell at this point.
How can we help? Well, aside from the long term responsibilities of a sportsman, we can help by keeping a distance from animals as we recreate. Whether we are snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, shed hunting, etc. We can give animals a wide berth so as to not increase stress on their already burdened health. We can also hunt with management in mind, this can be tough, but choosing to let an area rebound can make a huge difference. We tend to tell ourselves something like, someone will shoot it anyway, might as well be me… and so on. This may be true, but as we talk the talk, it is incumbent that we walk the walk, and if our hunt area is in a downtrend there are actions to take that help the rebound and it starts with us.
If you have kept up with this topic you already know most of what we covered. However, one point here is to reinforce that IDFG is listening to our comments and concerns and they are attempting to be proactive about big game management. I realize that this may spark debate amongst many of us, but here we have a case in point that reinforces that a quality management system is in place, one that listens to sportsmen and women and makes changes directly. In fact, many of the changes to our 2023 hunt season are directly connected to public comment. I watched a large portion of the commission meeting in March and we definitely have their ear. I realize it is not perfect and there are faults, but as I just stated; “it starts with us”, well, that is applicable here, if we don’t speak up during the process then we surely can’t expect someone else to do it.