Living near wildlife is part of the wonder and risk of our area. We have deer, elk, mountain lions, skunks, badgers and more. Each type of wildlife brings unique responses and requires that citizens be vigilant and aware of their surroundings. Deer and elk need to not be disturbed. Pets need to be protected from predators such as mountain lions. This year, reports of mountain lions are coming in regularly to Idaho Fish and Game, some from the Hailey area.
The earlier-than-usual snowpack and winter-like conditions in the Wood River Valley mean wintering wildlife needs your help! All forms of winter recreation can disturb deer and elk. This includes motorized, non-motorized, skiers, dog walkers, etc. Hailey and other agencies tasked with wildlife management and/or protection seek to minimize impacts on animals, particularly those caused by recreationists. We want people to use public lands and open space - it’s mentally and physically healthy to spend time outdoors and seeing wildlife from a distance can add to that experience. It’s just important to enable the local wildlife to survive while enjoying these outdoor experiences.
Please remember to look before you go; when you see deer or elk, go to another area to avoid disturbing them. Dogs should be leashed, under strict voice control, or consider leaving them at home. It is illegal for dogs to chase wildlife, and a pet owner can be cited for an infraction. This is both to avoid disturbing wildlife and for the safety of your animal.
Deer and Elk information:
- Cumulative impacts determine an animal’s survival. If deer or elk are disturbed once, or multiple times a day, for several days each week that adds up to a tremendous amount of additional energy expended.
- Deer and elk don’t gain much, if any, nutrition during the winter - they are essentially in a fasting state, living off their fat reserves stored up during the spring, summer, and fall. Some of the highest mortality is in the spring when they simply run out of fat and can’t make it until forage becomes an available source of nutrition.
- Deer and elk herd sizes, locations, and migratory patterns vary. Some reside in the Wood River Valley year-round and don’t necessarily migrate as we would understand.
- Not all herds are the same. For example, there is a herd of elk that spends a lot of the winter within Hailey city limits and is very habituated to human behavior. There are also deer and elk that migrate from the higher country into the surrounding hillsides and canyons that have very little interaction with humans and can be startled more easily.
- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and local jurisdictions in the Wood River Valley can implement restrictions to help wildlife from January 1 – April 30.
- Jurisdictions meet at least monthly to discuss conditions, trends, issues, and compliance to determine the best way forward.
- Restrictions could include a prohibition of dogs or human entry.
- One of the most pronounced disturbances is when dogs chase wildlife. Wildlife interprets the chase as a direct threat to their life and reacts accordingly.
- Many variables are taken into consideration when implementing restrictions such as recreation use patterns/types/locations and congregation of animals.
- Wood River Valley Wildlife Smart Communities
- Hailey and partners have placed signs at main public land access points, issued press releases, and social media posts.
- Stay tuned for additional information as it becomes available.
Mountain Lions and Personal Safety
Mountain lions have been living in the Wood River Valley long before human development began. Most residents, even those who have lived there for years, have never observed one. However, we are hearing from residents that they are now seeing these secretive cats as they pass through their neighborhoods. Some reports include sightings of lions during daylight hours, which is not typical behavior.
Wildlife managers agree that if a person is in close proximity to a lion, they should:
- NEVER run away from a mountain lion. The lion’s instinct is to chase and ultimately catch what they perceive as potential prey.
- NEVER turn your back on a lion. Always face them while making yourself look as large as you can. Yell loudly, but don’t scream. A high-pitched scream may mimic the sound of a wounded animal.
- SLOWLY back away while maintaining eye contact with the lion.
- Safety equipment you may choose to carry could include bear spray, a noise device, like an air horn, and if you walk in the dark, a very bright flashlight.
- If you are attacked, fight back!
Remember to use all of your senses to detect if a mountain lion is nearby. Using a light to help see your surroundings is very important, both in your yard and in your neighborhood. If you run or bike for personal fitness, use caution when wearing headphones which take away your ability to hear if a lion, or any other wildlife, is giving you signals that you’re too close.
Mountain lions are opportunistic predators - they don’t know when their next meal will happen, and will often attempt to take prey when it presents itself. A lion may perceive a pet as prey. To keep pets safe, owners are strongly encouraged to follow these safety tips:
- Keep your pets on a leash.
- Watch the pets’ behavior, since they may sense the lion before you can actually see them.
- Do not feed your pet outside or leave their food dishes outside. The mountain lion will not typically be attracted by the food, but the food could attract other wildlife that may be looked at as prey by a lion.
- Before letting your pet outside, turn on lights, make noise and ensure the yard is clear of wildlife. Do not assume that a privacy fence will prevent a mountain lion from entering your yard.
- Accompany your pet outside if possible.
By nature, mountain lions are shy and will make every effort to avoid contact with humans. Over the last several months it does appear there are some lions that have become more accustomed to living near Wood River Valley towns and neighborhoods. Homeowners can do several things to make it less likely that a mountain lion would pass through or live near their homes and neighborhoods. These include:
- When leaving your house, be aware of your surroundings. Look and listen for signs of wildlife near your house.
- Do not feed wildlife! Elk and deer are the preferred prey for mountain lions. Feeding elk and deer can attract predators to the feed site.
- Strongly encourage your neighbors to not feed elk and deer. To effectively keep predators out of neighborhoods everyone must do their part.
- Do not leave your household garbage outside and unsecured. As with pet food, the garbage will not typically attract a mountain lion, but it might attract other wildlife that would be considered prey by a lion.
- Ensure that a lion cannot get under your patio or deck. These spaces can be a perfect location for a daybed.
- Place covers over window wells which can also be a place for a lion to use as a daybed.
- Install motion-sensor lights which may discourage wildlife from staying in your yard. Lights can be directed to minimize the impact on your neighbors and our dark skies.
Reporting Mountain Lion Sightings and Encounters
Wood River Valley residents and visitors should immediately report any encounter that results in an attack to the Magic Valley Regional Fish and Game Office at (208) 324-4359 during business hours, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday. If after hours, local conservation officers can be reached by calling the Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) hotline at 1-800-632-5999.
Mountain lion sightings, observations, and reports can also be made to the Blaine County Sheriff at (208) 788-5555.