Feeding Wildlife Part 1

Feeding elk at Tex Creek WMA after the disastrous Henry Fire of 2016 was necessary, yet it was still a dangerous (to the elk) undertaking. In the 22 years I was professionally associated with Tex Creek WMA, elk were fed on only two other occasions.

When famous grizzly bear 399 and her four cubs finally heading to her den in mid-January, all of them were fat and shiny, looking like hairy beach balls. It was exciting to think that this venerable mother was in top condition as she entered the den and that the likelihood of seeing her again next spring was high.

The reason for their condition and the late entrance into the den was exposed last week though by an article in the Jackson, Wyoming newspaper. A woman living near the airport in Jackson had been feeding the bear family for over a month. She was actually, according to her, feeding up to eight moose and the bears just took advantage of the abundant molasses coated grain. Because it is not illegal, though discouraged, to feed moose in Wyoming, state and federal officers declined to issue her a citation (since grizzly bears are still listed as threatened, it is illegal to feed them).

In another incident, a professional photographer was captured on camera feeding a red fox in Grand Teton National Park, enticing the animal to within a foot of him, igniting a firestorm of protest from wildlife lovers.

Ironically, between the town of Jackson and Grand Teton National Park, is the National Elk Refuge, a place where thousands of elk have been fed each winter for over 100 years. Wyoming operates another 22 sites like it, in three counties.

All the while, 40 percent of Americans, myself and most of the people I know included, routinely feed songbirds in our backyards.

There are a lot of discrepancies or even contradictions in how humans view the feeding of wildlife. Along with that is a lot of disinformation, both for and against feeding of all types that may require some clarification.

First are the legal ramifications. Like with grizzly bears, many states or local municipalities have regulations in place prohibiting feeding of wildlife. Check before you feed. For the most part, feeding wildlife is not illegal in Idaho, but is strongly discouraged.

Feeding big game animals like deer and elk is generally a bad idea for many reasons. Probably most importantly, it congregates animals in unnatural ways that can lead to the spread of disease. This is not hypothetical. For instance, on Wyoming elk feeding sites, brucellosis has a much higher prevalence than in naturally fed herds. Chronic wasting disease introduced on a feed ground could annihilate entire herds.

Feeding tends to bring wildlife and humans into conflict. Wild animals are unpredictable, may cause property damage and may attract animals, such as mountain lions or grizzly bears, into family neighborhoods putting the wildlife and the humans in danger. The adage, a fed bear is a dead bear, is too often true.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game justifies feeding big game animals under the following conditions:

1. To prevent damage to private property such as damage to stored agricultural crops like haystacks
2. To prevent significant human safety issues such as elk congregating near a busy highway

3. To prevent excessive mortality that would affect recovery of the herd such as those conditions where a high percentage of the adult females would be expected to die

4. To prevent excessive mortality of a herd when winter forage is unavailable due to fire or unusual weather.

Why does Wyoming violate these biological principles with their feed grounds? Because they are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Their feed grounds replace winter range lost to development. Their unpleasant alternative is a dramatic reduction in elk numbers while they try to establish new winter ranges—a daunting undertaking with uncertain results.

But what about bear 399 and her cubs? Did feeding help them or hurt them? Feeding wildlife is seldom a good idea, but there are exceptions. Was this one of them? More on feeding wildlife in future columns.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

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. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

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.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"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.

Readers Write:

"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:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

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