As I’ve been compiling information for the [2012 IDAHO ELK REPORT], there were several things that struck me. And I’ll be laying those on the table here as time goes on.
Here’s the question that so many sportsmen are asking: why have Idaho’s elk populations declined so rapidly in the last decade?
The problem is the underlying assumption that Idaho was one big elk mecca, that the elk in Idaho once comprised 1 out of every 5 living organisms. It’s simply not the case. Idaho did become a place where large elk herds developed, but there are a couple of factors that play into that.
In the days of Lewis and Clark, much of the northern half of the state was one big canopied forest. And as we know, elk are prairie critters, not fitted to finding feed under ferns. But things changed the landscape drastically when large forest fires raged through vast areas of North Idaho, creating green grass parks. Now that’s something the elk can get into. And they did. This all happened in the early part of the 20th Century. Since that time the habitat has declined slowly, with established elk herds holding their own. But at some point, without fires, the habitat declines to a point where the elk aren’t able to make it. I believe we’re seeing that happen now – we’re at the tipping point.
So we need a few fires. Wolves can carry their own load of blame, and we can hunt them as we will. But if the forests were cleared with a few massive fires… yeah, I’d be all for that. I think it would do more immediate help to the elk herds than any wolf hunting season.
But then the question is – why haven’t we had those big fires in the last 50 years? Well, since I’m an Idahoan, I come by the right to be a little anti-government rightly, and so here’s my answer. It’s the federal government’s fault. It’s simplistic, but rather true. And coming by that conclusion isn’t born out of my short wired wacky brain. In fact, it’s a common theme when the IF&G explains why the elk populations are declining. The Forest Service has put such efforts into forest fire suppression, that they put every fire out ASAP.
So how about we save a few bucks, and let those fires sweep a little broader. When God strikes a flint, let’s watch the lightning bolt do what it does. And then let it go.
~ J. Bunch
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