Elk will not be fed near Sun Valley, ID this winter

Long time private feeding by Wood River Elk Trust terminated-

It looks like some wisdom has seeped in. Feeding elk on the edge of town disrupts elk natural patterns and attracts wolves, cougars, coyotes into town. This problem will not be resolved immediately, however, because the elk now expect food. They will come to the edge of town, find no food laid out and probably attack the shrubbery.

No elk feeding in Elkhorn this winter. SV Elkhorn Association denies proposal. By Jon Duval. Idaho Express Staff Writer





  1. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    …or well-meaning but misguided homeowners will put out hay at night, which is what happened the last time they stopped feeding abruptly.

  2. JimT Avatar

    Well, at least the well heeled folks of Sun Valley can replace the shrubbery. I suspect Tom Page is right..people will put out hay or feed or something because they don’t want to see them starve if it is a bad winter, just they like they do for white tailed deer in New England.

    Until the predator prey balance is back, all sorts of these things will continue to happen.

    How do the trophy folks feel about this?

  3. Lynne Stone Avatar

    Jim T – I don’t know any Elkhorn residents that read this blog, but maybe a few. Elkhorn is the “sister village” east of Sun Valley. Rather than bemoan the sorry fact that some 40 years ago, private land was developed in what was prime elk winter range, we must now deal with the here and now.

    One could attack the “trophy folks” who live in Elkhorn, but what good does that do? There are a lot of wolf supporters in the Elkhorn area, that also support feeding the elk.

    There’s not a simple answer here.

    Last March, when the Phantom wolves discovered the Elkhorn elk, and wolf jams similar to Lamar Valley started to occur, what I heard from Elkhorn residents, was differing views on whether the elk should be fed or not. The wolves were not the main topic, just entertainment, and residents and visitors (from all over the world) suddenly had wolf watching to go along with their world class Sun Valley skiing experience.

    I was fortunate to once visit the Lamar Valley and found it absolutely beautiful. I saw the Druids, tho a long ways off. But, I live in Ketchum. Next to Sun Valley. The home of Ernest Hemingway. There is opportunity here to use the Phantom Hill Pack, as an ambassador pack, to educate the hundreds of thousands of people who come to Sun Valley, not for wolves, but other reasons. My intent is to make wolf viewing a reason to come to Sun Valley.

    The Phantoms could be seen last March (with the help of spotting scopes) high on ridge tops, from downtown Sun Valley & Ketchum.

    The Wood River Valley, which has the towns of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue, is elk winter range. The wolves are here. If the Phantoms survive the gladiator force out to kill them in the wolf hunt, then this coming winter, I will be spending every morning, talking to people as we watch these beautiful wolves, aka an experience like the Lamar Valley. But five minutes from lodging, skiing and Papa Hemi’s restaurant.

  4. Ryan Avatar

    “Until the predator prey balance is back, all sorts of these things will continue to happen.”

    Its not that far off in the west, the problem is that all of the good winter range seems to be inhabited by humans. If the wolves follow the elk into the streets of suburbia, no good will come from it. Watching nature do its dirty work (predators killing prey) is distasteful to most. I’m sure suzie home maker waking up to a disembowled elk in her front yard will not be well liked.

  5. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    Yes, parts of the Wood River Valley are winter range, but a significant percentage of the local elk herd is fed at legal and quasi-legal feedsites. The problem here is not so much the predator-prey balance, as it is too many elk for the winter ranges that have escaped subdivision. I heard from several people who live in the mid-valley subdivisions that they have seen more elk down in these heavily populated bottoms over the past couple winters than at any time in recent memory. Last year, this happened despite a fairly mild winter. One likely reason is the wolf pressure on the feedgrounds has pushed the elk where the wolves are reluctant to go.

    I think the wolves have been more successful at taking down elk near the feedgrounds (most of which are in the north end of the valley) than they have on ranges with more dispersed natural feed (EF Big Wood, Deer Creek), but I have no hard evidence to back up that observation.

    Much of the remaining public range is not that great for elk during the winter – mostly sage, some cheat, some native grasses, some rabbitbrush and bitterbrush. A habitat improvement project that would renew and increase native grass forage near Elkhorn, Proctor Mt or Gimlet might alleviate some of the problem. The tall grasses that have come up in the Castle Rock fire area across the road in the last two years are very impressive – take a look in Limekiln Gulch, Timber Gulch or near Mahoney Butte.

  6. Lynne Stone Avatar

    Tom – excellent information.

    Ryan – uh, dunno how many elk you have seen killed by wolves, but by the time suzie homemaker gets up, the wolves have wolved down much of the elk and what remains, will be finished down to the bone on night two.

  7. gline Avatar

    sounds like a nice place lynne. Lamar valley is where I have seen wolves as well. They were playing with pine cones at the time. Heard coyotes that same trip. was a wonderful experience. One other time I saw a large black wolf on the highway going to Lost Trail Ski resort… that was a long time ago. I liked the way he acted like he owned the highway…

  8. Carl Avatar

    Tom, how much livestock grazing is occuring on the areas you mention?

  9. pointswest Avatar

    “A habitat improvement project that would renew and increase native grass forage near Elkhorn, Proctor Mt or Gimlet might alleviate some of the problem. ”

    A valley, like the Wood River Valley, is vital winter habbitat for the elk and deer that range for hundreds and hundreds of square miles. The winter range is the bottleneck that greatly influences the game populations over this range. I believe greater consideration should be given to wildlife as these valleys are developed and taxes should be levied for mentioned habitat improvement projects.

    I know it is starting to happen but I see development really picking up in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming over the next few decades.

  10. pointswest Avatar

    Here are a couple of Google Earth images of the wood river valley so you can see how important the valley is as winter habbitat. It reaches far into the hills and mountains and is becoming completely choked with developement.



  11. pointswest Avatar

    Just one more image of Elkhorn Village. Elkhorn is near the center of of the image…to the east (right) of Dollar Mountain.


  12. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page


    There is some livestock grazing in Greenhorn Gulch near Mahoney, and there are times when some of the sheep move through these areas from summer allotments to wintering grounds out in the desert (mostly via truck once they hit the valley floor I think). But for the most part, livestock grazing is nothing compared to, say, just over the hill in the NF Big Lost or the Salmon River tribs, or even the Southern Pioneers that see many many sheep. I’ve never run into stock up Limekiln, Timber Gulch, or in Elkhorn, but I can’t say for certain that there isn’t any.

    One thing that is a real limiting factor in Central Idaho for flora/fauna is the poor, mostly granitic soil. It just doesn’t grow plants, fish and animals like volcanic soils do in much of southern and SE Idaho, or near Yellowstone. The silver lining of this situation is that it’s what largely kept Central Idaho intact from much mining. logging, and private land ranching claims in the 19th century. So no matter what you do, you’re never going to have the game density of western Colorado or SW Montana, for example.

    PW – Funny you should mention taxes for habitat…Blaine County is on the verge of implementing the Land, Water and Wildlife tax (essentially open space, water and habitat restoration) that was passed last fall. I’ve actually been fortunate enough to land a space on the committee that will make project recommendations to the County Commissioners in the coming months. I think it’s the second such measure in Idaho, after the Boise Foothills measure a few years ago.

  13. pointswest Avatar


    I sense a big movement in the USA towards conservation and ecology. I hope we see more of this.

    In Central Idaho, is it the granite or the lack of precipitation that leaves poor soils? Since central Idaho has so many mountain ranges, a lot of it is very, very dry. Maybe the soils form too slowly in some areas and erode off before vegitation can hold them to the hillsides.

    Some many of the tuffs from the Yellowstone hotspot eruptions covered Central Idaho….Huckleberry, Kilgore, Jarbridge, and others. There should have been some of these deposits around to form soils.


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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