Elk farms to be big issue in Idaho Legislature

After last year’s big breakout of elk at Rex Rammel’s elk shooter bull operation SW of Yellowstone Park last year, and lesser incidents, it is expected that up nine bills will appear in the Idaho legislature this year to better regulate the operations or maybe to abolish them.

Supporters of elk farms say that the analysis of the escaped elk that were shot after Governor Risch’s order showed no disease. That was true, but one elk seems to have actually been a red deer (a European species closely related to elk).

Montana and Wyoming governors have complained about the disease threat these Idaho farms pose to wild elk in the three state area. Sportsmen too seem highly concerned about the farms, especially the “shooter bull” operations, where make believe sportsmen shoot trophy elk up against a fence.

A new wrinkle on elk farms has appeared in Bannock County, above Pocatello, Idaho, where I live, pointing to the need for regulation. Most folks believe, as did I, that these farms are relatively expansive in size and that the state Department of Agriculture regulates them to some degree.

However, one elk farm has cropped up in the Pocatello (mountain) Range in an area of 5-acre homesite parcels. The operator of the place has his elk on 2 or 3 acres of his 5-acre ranchette. I’ve heard, but not confirmed that his permit is for about 15 elk, but there are usually far more elk on the small enclosed operation.

Few people know of the operations’ existence (at least until the local newspaper did a story on it), but it raises the specter of unregulated, backyard elk enclosures showing up around the state. There might even be more in the general area where I live, yet to be revealed.

While Idaho’s Governor Risch was aggressive on the matter of elk farms, etc., Idaho’s newly elected governor “Butch” Otter, said during the campaign that he would let the legislature take the lead.






  1. Erin Miller Avatar

    This backyard elk deal is not a part of the assn., and likely operating under radar. To judge all domestic elk operations by these bad actors is less than appropriate. There are idiots in every industry- when you have a bad driver you shut him down, not the entire highway. Also, the one cow of Rammells’ was suspetct as 2 of 3 tested proteins showed positive from a lab with a bad reputation who also has tested wild elk to be red deer positive. There is a test being done on 17 proteins that will determine- yet the cow has been slaughtered as per state statute. No other elk including her offspring tested positive. In order to legally buy and/or sell domestic elk there must be testing and approved facilities. Gannon recently said in Capital Press that a phase out won’t happen, as the state couldn’t afford it. Legislators now don’t beleive it’s necessary. Wyoming and Montana need to be held responsible for disease they have in their wild herds. Domestic elk in Idaho have never had disease, but wild elk have had brucellosis. The real threat of disease is F&G bringing in big horn sheep from several western states and releasing them in Idaho with no testing or quarantine. Proof of this is in F&G website archives. The ‘sportsmen’ against elk farms are in this ‘caucus’ and research reveals they’re anything but ‘hunters’ and take support from HSUS and activist groups who oppose all hunting. Hmmmm… Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife support this industry, as does Farm Bureau and others. People are waking up and learning the truth on this as those against domestic elk are losing credibility fast. This industry brings more than 24 million dollars to Idaho and provides nearly 400 jobs according to an economic impact study done by an Ohio corporation. Attacks on this industry are politically motivated, and they’ll go after bird farms and fish farms should they think they’re able- it’s a sad waste of state time and money. People should really educate themselves from credible sources on this issue. Huffaker who helped start this fiasco was quoted a few weeks ago to say that if disease comes to Idaho elk it’ll come across the border in wild herds, not from tested domestic elk. How ironic how such folks are backstepping.

  2. kt Avatar


    I had heard that one of the former Idaho Department of Fish and Game Commissioners from eastern Idaho, a sheep rancher, and now elected to the Idaho legislature, had some kind of fenced wildlife hunting operation – that also includes some BLM or other public land fenced within it? Is that the case?

    Yes, Jeff Siddoway has a big operation for “shooter bulls.” The Post Register, a few years back, said it was an obstacle to the migration of wild animals coming down out of Yellowstone and the Centennial Mountains.

    Siddoway used to be President of the National Woolgrowers. His family has always had political muscle compared to we peons in Eastern Idaho.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Well the thing is Erin, these under-the-radar breeders are going to put everyone out of business.

    So are the Elk Breeders going to have a bill?

  4. Erin Miller Avatar

    All elk breeders won’t go out of business because of a few bad apples, just like dairies and other industries, there are always jerks. We’re hoping that the bill the ISDA and elk breeders are working on will give the ISDA power to enforce regulation. Also, a bad actor law would force licensing on people who don’t follow law, then after more infraction they lose that license and the right to have the elk. Senator Siddoway has a large operation, yes, where he offers elk harvests. He has part of his HUGE acreage under fencing, which is still thousands of square acres. Go to JuniperMountainRanch.com and watch the video, you can’t even see the fence in it, that’s how large it is. I think it’s funny that people bash this when it’s okay for game bird farms to release a bird out of a cage so a guy who has paid can shoot it 3 feet from the cage door; or fishing farm raised fish in a closed pond after paying a fee.

  5. Erin Miller Avatar

    The migration issue with Siddoway is null, as the few small herds that still do travel through that area walk along outer area of the property and through to where they’re headed anyway. That was just another stunt grasping at straws to attack an industry that competes for revenue with F&G.

  6. Erin Miller Avatar

    Legislature is holding a meeting pre-lawmaking session with F&G, ISDA to go over the FACTS so they know which of the bills hold no water, as many of them will do just that. Two of the lawmakers that have at least 3 of them aren’t even from Idaho, and are democrats- goes to snow politically motivated pushes.

  7. kt Avatar

    I really want to know if Siddoway has public land fences in with his canned hunt operation. If so that is an outrage. Or, if the person that told me he did a couple years back was right, has he arm-twisted some hapless Bush BLM manager to do a land trade? We haven’t heard of any land trades in that part of the world.

    Plus, does he still have domestic sheep? If so, doesn’t this set up an ideal situation for all kinds of disease transmission between species – especially since domestic sheep harbor so many pathogens, that make humans ans other aninmals sick?

    You can’t be serious – to think that ISDA under Butch Otter, Simplot’s ex-son-in-law until too much womanizing caught up to him – will have a State Dept. of Ag. than is anything more than the pawn of any and all industry – including the Canned Hunt Big Dead Head Industry.

    The ISDA is known for the most laughably lax of enforcement. For example, there was an article a little while ago in the Statesman about EPA needing to take measures (level stiff fines) in Bruneau to address feedlot water pollution from Bruneau Cattle Company, associated with a recent President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. It seems like the higher these self-important western stockmen rise in livestock industry circles – the more nefarious things they are up to.

  8. Erin Miller Avatar

    There are no known sheep-cervidae diseases, which is easy to find out if you know anything about animals. Siddoway doesn’t run sheep with the elk either. That would be like saying horseowners run their horses with their ferretts and saying oh the disease between them! First it’s the owners business and no one elses, and screaming disease at this point is uneducated blabber- as the issue has been addressed. Grasping at straws in order to find something to complain about with Siddoway and his property is a little rediculous. I don’t like laws about other things and/or their lack of enforcement but I don’t scream about it, I vote for reps who I feel will do what I beleive is right and hope for the best. That’s all that can relatively-effectively be done. Domestic elk aren’t hurting wolves.

  9. Bill Davidson Avatar
    Bill Davidson


    Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife viewing add 1.44 Billion dollars a year to Idaho economy and almost 14,000 jobs. And this is provided by a wild idaho that is not contaminated by shooter bull operations, lazy people who do not want to hunt for their trophy, and elk farmers that alogned with the Idaho legislature to totally remove Idaho Fish and Game from the equation—-except when there is a problem like Rammell’s ooperation and then the Idaho Fish and Game Department has to use sportmen dollars to bail the crappy elk farms and the Idaho Department of Agruclture out.

  10. Erin Miller Avatar

    That’s just it- elk farms do not take money from the economy, don’t harm hunting and it’s contribution to the economy. There is NO CONTAMINATOIN. Wild elk HAVE disease in Idaho, domestic elk DO NOT. This is a falsehood that people develop opinions about this issu one, which is rediculous and contributed to by comments that are uneducated. Fish and Game doesn’t ‘bail’ anyone ‘out’ when it comes to elk farms, they have no jurisdiction, but chose to jump in on this issue. They were not required to spend any money on what happened. Fish and Game was and is politically motivated on this issue and by choice.

  11. Erin Miller Avatar

    When Fish and Game regulated elk farms they allowed red deer to be raised as well. They handed over control to ISDA.

  12. Layton Avatar


    You really have me confused — in one comment above you say:

    The real threat of disease is F&G bringing in big horn sheep from several western states and releasing them in Idaho with no testing or quarantine”

    Then, later, in another comment you say:

    “There are no known sheep-cervidae diseases, which is easy to find out if you know anything about animals.”

    Which one is it?

    What about the “shooter” bull that escaped from Rammell’s operation that tested positive for Red Deer genetics — as I understand it, not just once but twice!!??

    “The ’sportsmen’ against elk farms are in this ‘caucus’ and research reveals they’re anything but ‘hunters’ and take support from HSUS and activist groups who oppose all hunting.”

    WHERE in the world did you come up with this gem?? Do you have even a shred of proof? Have you been out collecting wild mushrooms?? Maybe they have gone bad in the winter weather.


  13. Erin Miller Avatar

    Domestic sheep diseases, plus I was referring to Big Horn sheep transmitting in diseases to OTHER Big Horn sheep, this isn’t limited to elk. The elk of Rammell’s that tested SUSPECT was a COW that DID NOT ESCAPE. Her offspring tested negative and she tested SUSPECT twice. She was slaughtered per statute and a test from an accredited lab that tests 3 times as many points is being done. Type in Matt Yost for instance of the “Caucus.” He is a member of several groups who are anything but hunting. Other officers of the “caucus” are tyed to activist groups which can be found by simply googling their names. You know a little much about mushrooms, it seems.

  14. Erin Miller Avatar

    Oh, and the HSUS funding ‘sportsmen’s caucus’ is per public record- and- if you’d read any of the articles on the suspect red deer elk you’d have known the FACTS on it.

  15. Layton Avatar

    Yep, I guess you’re right about the elk that tested positive, it was a cow.

    But, it also tested positive the second time — I guess there are two different labs that aren’t any good.

    Since the quote I was referring to was following a sentence about elk diseases I didn’t realize that you had changed the subject.

    “Domestic elk in Idaho have never had disease, but wild elk have had brucellosis. The real threat of disease is F&G bringing in big horn sheep from several western states and releasing them in Idaho with no testing or quarantine. Proof of this is in F&G website archives.”

    My bad — but, just FWIW maybe you could be a clearer next time??


  16. Erin Miller Avatar

    The tests officially made this cow SUSPECT, not POSITIVE. The lab(s) that tested this cow have also tested wild elk & found them to be red-deer suspect with the exact same results as this domestic cow had. Credibility/accuracy/thoroughness questionable, therefore. They test less than 5 protein points where other labs test nearly 20, one of which is doing another test which should clear things up. Perhaps you were looking for something to pick apart & it altered comprehension of what you were reading? Maybe you could take information as it is stated rather that discriminatively next time??

  17. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    It seems to be that there are 3 questions here, and they can be separated or combined by the legislature.

    1. The question of domestic elk in general?

    2. The question of domestic elk (and other animals) inside of shooting enclosures? This primarily concerns the ethics of this kind of “hunting.” I think it is not really hunting unless perhaps if the enclosure is very large. In addition, I don’t like the privatization of hunting, although that is common in many places.

    3. The question of which government agency will regulate the elk operations and to what degree? This assumes that all the elk operations will not all be shut down, of course. Of the greatest concern to me here is the disclosure that are very small, overcrowded and probably insecure “rouge operators” out there.

    If these were cattle, sheep, hog, or domestic goat operations, these conditions would not be allowed. The elk Breeders Assn. would do well, politically, to come down hard on these “wild” operations, asking the legislature for tough action against them.

    I want to congratulate Erin for holding up her end so far in this debate.

    I do think there is something to be said for elk venison as a healthy alternative to beef, and it is in the elk breeders self-interest to avoid disease, especially CWD at all costs. That doesn’t mean individual operators will pursue their self-interest, however, because we have seen that some do not, especially in the long run.

  18. joe nafus Avatar

    people have dogs cats horses sheep cows thats there pets our elk are pets once they have been domesticated they are like any other pet live stock cow horses dogs cats were once wild most all of these elk were born and raised in captivity so long as they are taken care of people need to leave us alone its none of your bussiness most mouthy people are jealious and don’t understand.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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