My name is Mary M. Martin and my husband and I are full time residents of Island Park, ID and have made this our home for 27 years. I am a bird hunter, fly-fisher, camper, hiker, Idaho Master Naturalist and truly want to help in anyway to protect and keep this wildlife wonderland. In doing this – we can learn how to share our space with wildlife in the safest way for all.
And I’ve joined a new group that aims to protect wildlife in eastern Idaho, at a time when the Trump administration, all eleven western governors, and local wildlife advocates agree that the time is now for us to protect migration corridors that our elk, deer, moose and pronghorn use as they move in and out of the Yellowstone area.
You might have seen the maps showing the paths taken by the great elk herds of Yellowstone as they head to the high country for green grass in summer, and to the low country for thinner snow in the winter. Or you may have seen the animals yourself. If you’re around St. Anthony or Ashton, you can see the biggest concentration of moose in Idaho every winter in the Sand Creek desert.
Thousands of elk and mule deer also use the Sand Creek area in winter. They follow their stomachs, and the bitterbrush, sagebrush, and chokecherry trees there are staples in their winter diets. In spring, they follow the grass as it greens up. The elk, for example, move up to National Forest lands, where they try to eat as nutritiously as possible so they can reproduce. And that’s the rub: Studies show that a large highway like Highway 20 can disrupt these ancient animal pathways, and lead to a dip in elk’s reproduction rates.
That’s a concern to anyone who likes to watch or hunt these magnificent animals. And that’s why I’ve joined the Henrys Fork Wildlife Alliance (henrysforkwildlifealliance.org). We’re a new, local group of your friends and neighbors in and around Island Park, and we envision a time when the wildlife of the Upper Henrys Fork Watershed will thrive because local people understand what’s required for their continued success. We’ll be tireless advocates and educators on behalf of wildlife in eastern Idaho.
And this work isn’t partisan. Did you know the Trump administration fully supports protecting migrations in and out of the Yellowstone area? We cheered last year when the administration – under then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – committed the Interior Department agencies to identify and conserve migration routes and winter habitat for deer, elk, and pronghorn. Zinke’s order, “Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors,” was lauded by sportsmen’s groups, from the Safari Club to the Idaho Wildlife federation, a close partner of our Henrys Fork group. And though Zinke has departed the cabinet, new Interior Secretary David Bernhardt doubled down on the secretarial order in March of this year. He added a provision covering moose and bighorn sheep, and expanded the order to include protecting summer range habitat for all of these animals. And just this month, the 11-state Western Governor’s Association passed a unanimous resolution asking federal and state agencies to work together to help wildlife as they move around the West.
What does this mean in practice? It means moving money and attention to some of these areas of state, public, and private land, for the benefit of wildlife, through measures like habitat improvement, fire abatement, and even native forage, which would help both cattle and big game. It means that there’s now $2.7 million available for agencies and even landowners, should they voluntarily choose to do so, to enhance their property for wildlife. This order absolutely does not mean designations, or any restrictions on private lands. It just means there’s money to help our wildlife.
These orders from the Trump administration show that when it comes to helping wildlife move without restricting land use, political ideology doesn’t need to come into play. We support this order, which calls on agencies, nonprofits, and landowners to work together to help the lands that elk, moose, and deer, for example, depend on. We all love our wildlife, whether we’re Democrat or Republican, and we can all work together to keep Idaho’s wildlife safe and healthy. As more and more people visit the Yellowstone area, and more and more people move to Island Park, we need to come up with common-sense solutions to keep our wildlife safe, just as Utah and Wyoming have done.
Join us today at henrysforkwildlifealliance.org and become part of Idaho’s newest group helping our animals survive and thrive.
Mary M. Martin has been a resident of Island Park for 27 years. She is a bird hunter, fly-fisher, camper, hiker and Idaho Master Naturalist.