Big Cottonwood WMA is about 25 miles southwest of Burley. Named for the cottonwood-lined stream that runs through it, the WMA is home to a diversity of wildlife.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game has 32 wildlife management areas (WMA). Every region except the Salmon Region has at least two. Over the course of my career as a wildlife biologist for Idaho, I visited the majority of the WMAs in one capacity or another. However, my wife has not been as fortunate, and we decided to make an effort this fall to see and video as many as we could in one trip. We routinely recreate on all six WMAs in the Upper Snake Region so I counted them as already visited, leaving 26 to go.
We cheated a little by first visiting most of the WMAs in the Pocatello or Southeast Region (we missed Sterling WMA near Aberdeen) several days before our trip began in earnest. We knew we would miss the fall colors there if we put it off.
We started with the Portneuf WMA. This WMA is located on the east side of Interstate 15 between Inkom and McCammon. It is best accessed by exiting the Interstate at Inkom and following the old highway south. If you want more specific directions to any of the WMAs I will cover in the next few weeks, go to idahofishandgame.gov, click on the Wildlife tab then the Wildlife Management Area tab.
The autumn colors at Portneuf were spectacular, especially in the evening as they glowed in the fading sun. We had the potential to see sharp-tailed grouse and mule deer but didn’t luck out this time.
The next morning, we were up before the sun to arrive at Georgetown Summit WMA east of Soda Springs. During the winter, this place is really alive with wintering deer and elk. During the summer it attracts fishermen to the Bear River. The Oregon Trail crosses the summit and parallels the highway for a mile or more.
Montpelier WMA was next on the list. Sitting on the foothills above Montpelier, this WMA has very little vehicular access but has a decent trail. On advice from the manager, we took a steep and rough road across Highway 89 to the top of a ridge where we had an overview of the WMA at a distance.
Then it was back to Soda Springs and north on Highway 34. About 15 miles from town we turned right up the Blackfoot River Road. In another 15 miles we arrived at the Blackfoot River WMA. This WMA houses the headwaters of the Blackfoot River where Diamond Creek and Lane’s Creek join. With an extensive riparian bottom that complements a meandering Blackfoot River, this place is a Nirvana for fishermen. Despite the ever-present phosphate mining, it is still a beautiful area and Cathy was quickly making plans to return next summer.
From Blackfoot River we took the Blackfoot River/Bone Road home (a two hour trip) and then our road trip began and our first overnight stop was the Big Cottonwood WMA south of Burley. We have seen golden eagles, great horned owls, mule deer and turkeys among other things. This isn’t a large WMA, but provides access to thousands of acres of BLM property.
Seeing essentially the entire state of Idaho during this wonderful time of year and highlighting areas managed specifically for wildlife and wildlife-based recreation will make this trip memorable. We will keep you posted over the next two weeks as we discover or re-discover awesome things about our state.
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.
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:
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