During the winter forests seem quiet and the fear of bears dwindle but there is still plenty of wildlife out there hidden from view. But as winter rolls in and food becomes scarce there is a possibility of animals encroaching on agricultural land and local homes.
On Jan. 10, officers were notified of a mountain lion in a Ketchum resident’s backyard for the second time. Idaho Fish Game used rubber bullets and buckshot to chase away the lion. When it left they found the carcass of an elk calf. Officials removed the carcass in hopes that the lion wouldn’t come back for it.
Mountain lions are one of many wild creatures that roam in the winter. According to a press release from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, there have been 50 reports of mountain lions within the Magic Valley in the last several months.
“If you encounter a mountain lion, never run from the lion,” the release said. “Remain calm, don’t turn your back, and make yourself look as large as possible. Yell at the lion to make sure it knows you are not prey. Throw things at the lion if possible. Slowly back away, without taking your eyes off the lion. When walking or recreating around the valley, residents are encouraged to carry bear spray as a potentially effective safety item.”
According to an Idaho Department of Fish and Game press release, larger wildlife is capable of surviving Idaho’s — sometimes harsh— winters. Although,Fish and Game does have a program in place to feed wildlife during extreme winter conditions.
Decisions on feeding wildlife are handled by feeding advisory committees that can be found in every region of the state except the Panhandle. Factors that would prompt feeding wildlife include snow depth, snow crust that stops foraging and long periods of sub-zero temperatures.
“They also monitor if animals are causing damage to private agricultural lands, or creating hazards to public safety, such as congregating near freeways and highways,” according to the release. “Deer, elk, pronghorn and other wildlife are adapted to Idaho’s climate and can withstand most winter weather. When extreme weather threatens massive die-offs, Fish and Game has feed stockpiled so department personnel can react.”
Many animals in Idaho's wilderness have adapted to their environment through physical and social traits.
"Winter is the most stressful time of year for Idaho’s wildlife. Animals have three basic strategies for survival in winter — they can hibernate, migrate, or tough it out," according to an article (by Forest Botanist Edna Vizgirdas) on IDFG's website. "The key hardships are lack of food and cold temperatures; however, lack of food is generally considered to be the primary factor that causes many species to migrate or hibernate."
According to that same article, lynx have wide feet with thick fur that help them easily navigate deep snow. This also helps them catch their favorite prey, the snowshoe hare. Other mammals grow extra hair between their toes in winter for a similar snowshoe effect.
Smaller prey animals also turn white in the winter to avoid larger predators, in Idaho the snowshoe hare and the ermine both take this approach.
"By blending in with the snowy landscape, white coloration helps snowshoe hares escape from hungry lynx and other predators," according to the article. "By remaining perfectly still, snowshoe hares are so well camouflaged that you can snowshoe within arm’s reach from one and not even see it."
Instead of changing their fur other animals migrate to warmer climates, huddle in dens to stay warm and produce layers of body fat to insulate themselves.
"In deep snow, deer and elk follow in each other’s footsteps to save energy," according to the article. "Moose have special joints that allow them to swing their legs over snow rather than push through snow as elk do."
If animals get too close there are programs to help.
According to the Wildlife Damage Prevention & Compensation Program page on Fish and Game's website, it is the commission's responsibility to address "impacts Idaho's publicly owned wildlife can cause to privately owned farms and ranches."
According to the website, land owners with damage can contact their local Fish and Game regional office and speak with the Landowner/Sportsman Coordinator or a local Conservation Officer.
Fish and Game provides materials to reduce or prevent wildlife impacts by utilizing fences, gates, and panels. They also provide assistance for deterring wildlife from crops through hazing. The organization can also authorize special hunts or provide permits to harvest a set number of wildlife. Fish and Game can also have agreements with landowners where crops or land can be used by wildlife.
"In some cases where prevention was ineffective, Fish and Game will compensate eligible landowners for damages caused by big game wildlife," according to Fish and Game's website.
For more information about winter wildlife, wildlife programs and more visit Fish and Game's website at idfg.idaho.gov