By Bob Smathers
Lewiston--The topic of the day at a Fish and Game meeting in Lewiston on February 28 was depredation. Brad Compton, manager of the statewide depredation program talked about the Depredation Prevention and Compensation Program. He indicated that a fledgling program was started in 1984 to deal with wildlife depredation, but did not evolve into the current program until 1989.
“The depredation/resolution program is a shared responsibility program between Idaho Fish and Game and landowners” says Mr. Compton. The overall goal of the program is prevention of crop damage. Compton said there are typically over 700 depredation complaints each year statewide. He also said that Fish and Game processes about 20 to 40 claims each year. “That’s pared down from 700 complaints.”
Funding for the Depredation Prevention Program comes from two sources and amounted to about $770,000 in FY08. One hundred and ninety thousand came from tags, $.75 per tag which is dedicated funds. Another $580,000 comes from general tag and license funds. Management tools that are used in the depredation prevention program are hunting season structure, directing hunters to problem areas, Access Yes, hazing, baiting and lethal options. Hazing is done with cannons etc. to move elk out of an area using noise. Baiting is drawing animals away from where depredation is occurring with an alternative food source, such as a food plot. “Lethal control is the last resort, but is still very common year around in Latah and surrounding counties in Northern Idaho” says Compton.
When the animals do not leave an area and crop depredation continues, landowners can be either issued kill permits or an outright depredation hunt implemented. Kill permits are issued to landowners for a limited number of elk to be taken. The individual or landowner with the kill permit is responsible for field dressing the animal, then Idaho Fish and Game transports and donates it to the food bank. Fish and Game covers the butchering expenses. With a depredation hunt, landowners designate ½ of the permits and Fish and Game designates the rest and in this case, the hunter keeps the meat.
Funding for the depredation compensation fund comes from two sources and amounted to $340,000 in 2008. Two hundred thousand came from the sale of licenses and tags and the remaining $140,000 in the fund came from interest on a non-expendable account or endowment. The non-expendable account or endowment sits at $2,250,000 at this time. This endowment fund is fixed at $2,250,000 and the interest generated depends on interest rates.
To be eligible for depredation compensation, a landowner must allow hunting. He must also allow Idaho Fish and Game to access his property to verify damage and take reasonable steps to prevent wildlife damage. In addition to meeting these conditions, a landowner must have more than $1,000 in damage to be eligible for a depredation payment.
“Depredation claims have been increasing statewide over the last three years” says Compton, and the Clearwater region is the leading region for claims in the state. Claim payments statewide have usually been less than $200,000, but in 2008, losses were over $500,000. Crop damage claimants only received $.67 on the dollar and livestock loss claimants received $.50 on the dollar in 2008 because the total economic losses exceeded the amount in the fund. Brad Compton said that claims are $189,000 so far in 2009, but could increase to $300,000 between now and the end of the fiscal year on June 30. “Specialty crops grown in the Northern Idaho region and higher crop prices are contributing to higher claim payouts.”
Rob Stevens, the landowner coordinator in the Clearwater region says there are many challenges to depredation management. There are many canyons in the Clearwater region amongst the ag land that provide refuge for wildlife. “Property is predominantly private and there are also different values among landowners regarding wildlife” says Stevens. “In 2007-2008 we had the perfect storm with drought taking out the food source in the canyons, so elk and deer came out in droves to feed on crop land. In addition, crop prices were high and this contributed to the high payouts on depredation.”
“Differing values amongst land owners in Latah and surrounding counties make depredation management very challenging” says Dave Cadwallader, regional supervisor for Idaho Fish and Game in the Clearwater Region. “There are lots of private land refuges adjacent to farm land where landowners do not allow elk to be hunted. The elk are smart and find these safe refuges and they live there during the day, but come out and feed in the crops under the cover of night.”
Many of these refuge landowners do not permit hunting on their land are tired of confronting hunters who trespass instead of asking for permission to hunt. Trespass is tied closely to depredation and it is an issue for landowners, sportsmen and Idaho Fish and Game.
“Landowners who close their land because of trespass make it more difficult for Idaho Fish and Game to manage depredation” says Nez Perce County Farm Bureau president Robert Blair. He also went on to add that legislators, Fish and Game and other stakeholders need to resolve the issue of trespass. “Current trespass laws need to be evaluated by the stakeholders, especially the legislature because the dynamics of Idaho’s population has changed over the years.” Says Blair. If trespasser’s are not caught and prosecuted, then more private land will be closed to sportsmen and the depredation problem will continue to grow.
Dave Cadwallader says that Fish and Game is urging landowners not to confront trespassers on their property, especially if they are packing a high powered rifle. “Get a description of the person and their vehicle and get their license plate number and call a conservation officer or county deputy” says Cadwallader.
This meeting was attended by Idaho Fish and Game officials, landowners, sportsmen, several Idaho legislators and representatives from various organizations. The meeting was co-hosted by the Idaho Fish and Game, Nez Perce County Farm Bureau and the Nez Perce County Grain Producers.