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Farmers, ranchers discuss depredation with fish and game

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

MONTPELIER – Dozens of Bear Lake County farmers and ranchers had a direct and frank discussion with Idaho Department of Fish and Game employees Nov. 27 about wildlife depredation occurring in the region.

About 50 people, almost all of them farmers and ranchers, attended the meeting, which was organized by Bear Lake County Farm Bureau and included several IDFG regional representatives.

Damage to farms and ranches by elk, deer and beavers has been an ongoing problem for years in the county, said rancher Albert Johnson, president of Bear Lake County Farm Bureau.

While sportsmen have offered input to fish and game on wildlife issues in the region, farmers and ranchers here feel their voices and concerns haven’t been heard as much and that’s what led to the meeting, Johnson said. 

“Farmers and ranchers don’t have a voice, it seems, equal to the amount of depredation they’ve sustained and the resources they’ve put into wildlife,” he said. “We felt farmers and other landowners needed to have a direct contact voice with fish and game.”

During the meeting, fish and game employees had a fluid, back-and-forth conversation with landowners about depredation problems in the region.

“There was communication that went both ways,” Johnson said. “There were a lot of gaps … that were closed.”

For example, he said, a lot of farmers and ranchers in that region didn’t know about certain opportunities available for addressing problems caused by beaver. And, at the suggestion of landowners, he said, fish and game officials realized some things they can potentially do preemptively to try to control wildlife depredation problems before they get out of hand.

Johnson said people representing every part of the valley ended up participating in the meeting.

“I thought it was a pretty profitable session,” he said. “We received a lot of feedback from ranchers, a lot of phone calls after the meeting thanking us for that opportunity.”

During the meeting, fish and game employees went over the different resources available to landowners to help them address wildlife depredation issues. For example, there are special hunts that can be held in certain areas experiencing significant depredation. That includes landowner permission hunts and special depredation hunts.

If all else fails, landowners can apply for reimbursement for depredation-related losses through a claims process.

“These are challenging issues and sometimes we can’t 100 percent solve it,” said Zach Lockyer, IDFG’s regional wildlife populations manager. “It’s hard on you guys. We recognize that. That’s where the claims process comes in, to reimburse you for your losses.”

Beaver are not covered under that claims program, however, and fish and game employees described resources available to landowners to address problems caused by beaver.

“There is quite a problem with beavers, not only in the canyon but in the meadows as well,” Johnson said.

“Beavers are kind of the bane of my existence right now,” said Kolby White, a senior conservation officer with IDFG. “As soon as you (see) there are beavers starting to do something, let me know and I can do something about it.”

Asked about wolves, Lockyer said although there have been sightings in the area, the predators are not established in the region.

“We’re under the mindset of when, not if, they get here,” he said. “We’re set up to not allow a high volume … of wolves to get established here.”

Fish and game employees told meeting participants they have received the message about the wildlife depredation issues in the area and will do what they can to help landowners address them.

“We do feel your guys’ pain and suffering when you are going through something,” said White.

Lockyer told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation later he felt good about how the meeting went.

“It was a good opportunity for us to engage with a group that we don’t get to sit down with as often,” he said. “There were good questions, good dialogue and I hope we get future opportunities to engage with that group again.”