It has recently come to light that Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) culled more than 200 elk from the Magic Valley and surrounding zones as part of a behavior modification study in partnership with the University of Idaho.
According to EastIdahoNews.com, IDFG states the goal of the study was to learn the best method for reducing elk depredation on crops by changing elk behavior. If the purpose was to study how to change elk behavior, then eradicating these animals using IDFG sharpshooters makes zero sense.
If IDFG determined that all of these animals needed to be eradicated, why were no tags issued to hunters? The funds from those tags could have supported conservation efforts and provided a hunter with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. IDFG claims they could not do this because the elk were active only at night.
Although we all hear stories about elk going nocturnal once hunting season has started, they do this because of the sudden immense pressure from hunters moving through the woods during daylight hours of the hunting season, not because some elk are being killed. (Note: Elk are killed throughout the year by natural predation; that alone doesn’t dramatically change their behavior.) Short of every single one of these elk being taken at night, this argument falls apart. Even if this were true, the justification for the slaughter of these animals still doesn’t make sense.
First, the study is supposed to be a comparison of four different methods of behavior modification: modified fencing to keep elk out of fields; a non-poisonous chemical treatment, which has a foul taste to elk; trained dogs chasing elk away from cropland; and culling. But by removing these animals from the environment, they have skewed the results of the study. With fewer animals now in the areas where the elk were culled, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to meaningfully compare changes in herd behavior against other method areas.
Yes, there will be less depredation than before the animals were killed, but will that be because the herd has changed its behavior? Or simply because there are now fewer animals on the landscape? This study can really only tell us if removing elk en masse from the landscape is more effective at preventing depredation compared to the other methods, not whether it changes elk behavior more or less effectively than the other methods.
Second, it seems killing the animals was simply unnecessary. Why didn’t IDFG try non-lethal methods? For years, Parks Canada has been using loud, threatening noises like firecrackers and shotguns blasts (shot into the air) to scare bears away from roadways where they are in danger of being hit by passing vehicles or may cause traffic delays due to gawkers. You could say they are modifying the behavior of the bears. Why did IDFG go straight for slaughtering hundreds of animals without even trying similar, non-lethal methods?
Ultimately, we have to ask the question: Even if killing scores of elk is, in fact, the best way of reducing crop depredation, do we really want crews of government sharpshooters pulling the trigger?