Winter is a tough time for big game animals. They need all the protection we can give them even if it means choosing not to recreate on winter ranges.
Elk trails across Raynold’s Pass near Henrys Lake last week confirmed that November snow and cold had fired up big game migrations. Winter ranges will soon be crowded with animals trying to survive until green returns to the landscape.
As animals move onto winter ranges, human access restrictions come online. On December 1, most roads at Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area close to all motorized use (cross-country use is restricted year-round). Human entry is still allowed. The Bureau of Land Management land in the Heise area closes to all human entry on December 1. The Palisades District of the Forest Service closes winter ranges, including along the South Fork and Fall Creek, to human entry on December 15. The Teton District institutes a similar closure beginning the day after Thanksgiving. The Sand Creek Desert, from Highway 33 north and from the Sand Creek road west, is closed to all human entry beginning January 1.
These closures serve a purpose. Without a doubt, winter is the most stressful period of the year for big game. Winter isn’t just an inconvenience for them, it is potentially deadly. Even on good winter range, forage is scarce and their bodies begin to lose weight. The most important factor in their survival is conserving energy through reduced activity. Consistent disturbance can cause them to run out of “gas” before winter ends.
Closures such as these are seldom popular with people intent on winter recreation. People tend to see their actions in a vacuum and have a difficult time grasping the impact they may have. One person wandering once through a winter range isn’t a problem. Five or ten people or more wandering through the same area daily, as was happening in the Heise area before the BLM closure, is another matter altogether.
When an activity such as antler hunting revolves around money and the subsequent competition, human behavior degenerates and concern for the well being of the animals on the hill takes a backseat. Before the Sand Creek Desert closure, there were many reports of individuals on snowmobiles, ATVs and even on horseback, chasing bull elk in an attempt to make their antlers fall off. In some instances they tried to help that process using baseball bats and lariats.
As a trade-off for access restrictions, Cross-country snowmobile use is actually quite liberal in Forest Service winter travel plans, using the same logic as the winter range closures. With big game animals headed to winter range and grizzlies and black bears presumably sound asleep, there is less wildlife disturbance (with the notable exception of wolverines) in areas where summertime vehicle use is detrimental to wildlife security.
Unlike humans who can recreate elsewhere, big game on winter range have nowhere else to go. Protecting winter ranges may seem like a sacrifice of winter recreation opportunity. In reality though, making the welfare of our big game animals paramount is a wise investment everyone enjoys throughout the year.
Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!
On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.
Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf.
If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho