Skunks, badgers enlisted to control Idaho pelicans

Is this a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act?

After being told by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that their plan to oil the eggs of nesting pelicans amounted to an eradication program, the Idaho Fish and Game has proceeded to introduce skunks and badgers onto Gull Island in Blackfoot Reservoir to eat the eggs or harass the birds. This seems to violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and amounts to a “taking” of migratory birds.

Gary L. Burton, Acting State Supervisor for the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office of the USFWS, in an email states that the office “has not issued any authorizations or approvals for this release.”

We have written about this previously
Idaho F&G plan to kill pelicans hits obstacles July 1, 2009
Pelicans in Idaho versus Yellowstone Cutthroat — rare bird versus rare fish? May 16, 2009

Skunks, badgers enlisted to control Idaho pelicans
Associated Press

Badger and Pelicans © Ken Cole
Badger and Pelicans © Ken Cole






  1. kt Avatar

    This must be part of the Idaho Fish and Game earth day extravaganza.


  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    This is an incredible move, and if the story goes national a big black eye for the agency.

  3. kt Avatar

    I agree, Ralph.

    It is downright disgusting beyond belief.

    How many people are actually thrilled by seeing soaring white pelicans, or pelicans on the water? What more innocuous bird, except for perhaps the mourning dove, is there?

    They are very long-lived, have a very low reproductive rate, select only islands with NO predators for nesting, and nest in only a very few places.

    Does anyone else remember the really high water year – perhaps late 80s or early 90s – where portions of Bear River Refuge flooded, and nesting sites for birds like the pelican were greatly in jeopardy?

    I view this as symptomatic of the pathetic current state of affairs showing that all IDFG cares about these days is satisfying the greed of the Canned Corn Worm Dunker “angler”.

  4. Si'vet Avatar

    KT really, now we add name calling to fisherman, I am not sure but just somewhere on this site there was talk of polarization, and it’s detrimental affects. The old high road. A pathetic site watching a group of retired folks relax, chat enjoy the sun, waves, maybe a beer and try and catch a few fish for the table or smoker. They should be locked up in a rest home watching TV where they belong.

  5. Mark Gamblin (IDFG) Avatar
    Mark Gamblin (IDFG)

    All –
    Here is the IDFG News Release, to up-date the public on the ongoing implementation of the pelican management plan.
    Key points:
    * the Blackfoot Reservoir pelican nesting colony is rapidly increasing. Over five years of monitoring and research has documented high levels of pelican predation on the Blackfoot Reservoir adfluvial Yellowshone cutthroat trout spawning population that, by itself, threatens the future viability and sustainability of this critically important component of the Blackfoot River Yellowstone cutthroat trout population.
    * these are measures are implemented to reduce the Blackfoot Reservoir pelican nesting colony to a size that will ensure the persistance of the Blackfoot Reservoir adfluvial Yellowstone cutthroat trout population and a healthy, sustainable pelican nesting colony.



    Contact: Mark Gamblin, IDFG Regional Supervisor (232-4703/251-6500)
    Jennifer Jackson, Regional Conservation Educator, IDFG (232-4703/251-9403)


    This spring, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game continues implementation of the State Pelican Management Plan, approved by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission in May of 2009. The pelican management plan provides population management objectives to assure healthy sustainable pelican populations that are balanced with desired management objectives for Yellowstone cutthroat trout and other important public fish and wildlife resources.

    In March, using snow fence and over-head bird line with flagging (fladry), Fish and Game excluded one half of the available nesting habitat from pelican access, on Willow Island, one of two nesting islands for the Blackfoot Reservoir pelican nesting colony.

    On April 12, Fish and Game personnel released three badgers and two skunks on Gull Island, the second pelican nesting island, in Blackfoot Reservoir. The native predators were released on Gull Island before migratory birds began laying eggs. Fish and Game is also conducting a multi-year research project to better understand pelican feeding, dispersal patterns and predation impacts on Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Blackfoot Reservoir and the upper Blackfoot River.

    These management efforts comprise measured “adaptive management” actions to cautiously reduce the size of the Blackfoot Reservoir pelican nesting colony to a level that does not threaten the important Blackfoot Reservoir Yellowstone cutthroat trout fishery and other valuable hatchery rainbow trout fisheries in near-by reservoirs. Yellowstone cutthroat trout are classified as an Idaho species of special concern.

    All Fish and Game pelican management actions are conducted under the guidelines of the pelican management plan and with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review and coordination. All migratory bird species, including the American white pelican, are protected by Federal and State laws. It is unlawful for the general public to shoot migratory birds or to destroy their eggs or young.

    If you have any questions about the pelican management plan, please contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Southeast Region, at 208-232-4703. You can find the plan in its entirety on Fish and Game’s web site at

    1. Mark Gamblin (IDFG) Avatar
      Mark Gamblin (IDFG)

      Of course the state pelican management plan is not an “eradication plan”. The plan specifically commits the state to managing for healthy and sustainable numbers of pelicans in the state. An eradication plan would be designed to …. eradicate pelicans. The pelican management plan sets a population management objective for the Blackfoot Reservoir nesting colony of 700 adult, nesting pelicans.
      Native predators were moved to Gull Island to reduce pelican nesting success. Badgers were present on and removed from Gull Island in 1990 to improve goose nesting success. Pelican nesting success is monitored annually. The effects of predator re-introduction to Gull Island, on pelican nesting success, will likewise be closely monitored and evaluated.
      The IDFG has not requested approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the implementation of nesting habitat management or native predator management because those actions are well within the responsibilities and authority of the state of Idaho. The IDFG has consulted with the USFWS before these management actions were implemented to clarify interpretation of requirements of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and to share management plans with our management partner. The USFWS clarified that management of state wildlife resources, including movement of predators to Gull Island, if conducted outside of active nesting activity would not violate the MBTA. IDFG personnel carefully surveyed Gull Island prior to the release of 3 badgers and 2 skunks. There was no evidence of active nesting by migratory bird species. The badgers and skunks were then immediately released. Two of the three badgers and both skunks were fitted with radio collars and will be continuously monitored for presence or absence.

    2. Carl Avatar

      Mark, is the intent to let the skunk and badgers propagate? How would you control them once there numbers increase? What other birds nest on this island? Since both of these predators can dig under a fence, how does this protect part of the island? How big is this island? What studies have been done to see what species of fish are actually being consumed? Docile stocked trout would be easy prey for pelicans. Is it possible that the pelicans have increased because you are giving them an easy meal that has allowed them to be more productive? As a sportsman I am greatly concerned about a move like this. I think the agency should have thought this out better. I am not against predator introductions and I favored the wolf reintroduction and I do favor a limited wolf hunt but I think this was a big mistake.

  6. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    It proves that all the fish and game cares about is animals that can be shot or hooked and taste good. (Or make good mounts.)

  7. Tilly Avatar

    Mark: It’s just disappointing that native wildlife gets punished for doing what they evolved to do. Are there REALLY no other impacts to Yellowstone cutthroat trout that could be reduced? It’s sort of like blaming terns or sea lions for salmon declines… while looking the other way at dams, grazing, etc.

  8. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Idaho F&G managers = PIG FARMERS!! All symptom management.

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Tilly and Mark,

    As I have said before I don’t really think this is about Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. If it was, my opinion would be at least somewhat different.

    The pelicans do take these valuable trout, trout that I know are in trouble, and I want to see restored. Furthermore, perhaps the biggest trout I ever caught was a Yellowstone cut, caught on a fly in the Blackfoot Narrow above the reservoir.

    However, there are the important other facts to consider. The pelicans are at the Blackfoot River Reservoir not because they are living off the wild Yellowstone cutthroat but because there are many tons more of Utah Chub, carp, and suckers. This is what sustains them, not native cutthroat. I should add too that every fall Idaho Fish and Game releases a large number of sterile rainbow trout into the reservoir.

    The concern of Idaho Fish and Game is not really the Yellowstone cutthroat. It is their stocked rainbow plus the fisheries of many other little known reservoirs (little known to those who don’t live in SE Idaho or Cache Valley, Utah) spread out over SE Idaho to which the pelicans fly daily and feed: Alexander, Chesterfield, Daniels, Deep Creek, Twin Lakes, Weston. These are very popular recreational fisheries for local people who visit them to fish for bluegill, bass, and trout (restocked from time-to-time).

  10. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    MSG, Do you even know what you are saying when you say Idaho is managing pelicans for healthy, sustainable populations when they did just fine without you, thank you ma am……and to now kill them helps do this?

    God, I think you are even capable of blowing smoke up your own office waste paper basket. Now to all those Idaho F&G field folks, what do you think of this composite administrative crap coming out of your bosses brain? Do you think it is a slap in the face to your intelligence? An embarrassment and a blight on all of what you joined up for right out of college?

    Wow, managing for HEALTHY, SUSTAINABLE populations.

    And what about the badgers and raccoons? Was there any thought of their quality of life ….. and more so the lack of respect your bosses have for these animals? Your bosses might as well be in the dog fighting business.

    Maybe next time you will see them put both the badgers and the racoons in the ring of snow fence and take bets on who comes out alive.

    Really, what I think you ought to do to with your insensitive TOOL ingrained pig dog (sorry, plagerizing from Monty Python again) farmer bosses is put them in the badger the guys in Monty Python stategists were going to build (after their trojan horse rabbit failed) to fool the French in their castle (island).

    Ya round em up from all those desks and water fountains and herd them all in that badger. Then let the French wheel them in so the real skunks and badgers, the ones your administrators subjected to an unnatural life on Gilligans Island (did they even check for sex?), throw chickens, ducks and cows at them,….. those “empty headed animal food trough wipers”. Ya thats it.

    1. WM Avatar

      Geez Bob,

      Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Mark Gamblin, absent for months, comes back to the blog with an explanation of they are doing, and you are on him like stink on a skunk (do forgive the analogy).

    2. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson


      MSG got hammered a fair bit by others on this blog for his “healthy, sustainable” management of wolves crock of shit.

      So MSG comes back with the same “have to be very stupid to believe” propaganda…..just with another species. It is one thing to brief the public what an agency is doing, it is quite another when he tries to pull wool or pelican feathers over the publics eye. His statement is an insult to everyone who sees through it and it is non respectful to anyone else who wants to believe in an establishment such as condones this stuff….and later feels betrayed (like my dad who had every presidents picture on the wall above our farm house kitchen table. With Nixon it ended. He kept supporting him to anyone saying a president would never lie. When it was all over the picture came down and never another was put up). MSG has a higher responsibility he is not exhibiting. He tries to manipulate not teach. Thus it shows he has little respect for either the wildlife he is suppose to care for, nor the public. Lose respect and the person becomes an abuser.

      So yes, I will give support to every Fish and Game employee who reads this blog and already sees through this. They do not have to become bitter or apathetic. Maybe they can’t do anything about it in their jobs but at least they know they are not the only ones who think the way they do.

    3. WM Avatar

      OK, bob,

      Let’s pretend you are the fish and bird guy at IDFG for the Blackfoot Reservoir dilemma for the day. YOU get to make the decision. You got some “game fish” in this borderline cold water fishery – a man made reservoir, that also seems to produce lots of warm water scrap fish for the pelicans and other birds; hatchery trout do pretty well if they are big enough to escape the pelican and terns, maybe some triploids, and the woefully precarious Yellowstone cutthroat that is just holding on. What is your solution?

      And before answering, ya gotta remember the locals are gonna give you some pressure for lake fishing for decent rainbows, and the birders want their current array of species. Then, of course, the farmers want their irrigation water, the feds(and their interest group overseeers) want you to be sure you don’t violate any ESA or Migratory Bird laws.

      Go for it!

    4. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson


      Its not a matter of pleasing everyone, it is the patronizing spin, the snow job, the insult to ones intelligence, to ones reasoning power and the insult of the F&G administrators collectively putting together talking points that shows their feelings of superiority over the “public” in what they write.

      There is so much time spent strategizing spin amoungst these administrators they lose sight of the issue and the value of every one of those public they are about to introduce this spin to.

      I saw it in Yellowstone all the time. Biologist administrators would stop the pack train so they could use their cell phones on the mt. to figure talking points with those in Washington. Strategy sessions by these guys made for the worst kind of group think. It made them feel superior to the audience they were trying to influence.

      MSG is part of this group think judging by his repeated choice of phrases. His administrative “group’ may have been all high five’s for each other with each choice of words selected, but then they don’t see past the tunnel of their own accolades.

      It made me gag to see this while working for the NPS and it makes me gag now. Thus, yes, I woke up on the remembering side of bed this morning.

  11. WM Avatar

    I did a little ice fishing on Blackfoot a few years back, after basically getting skunked {no pun intended for this article} at Palisade. This is, afterall a reservoir, a lower elevation man-made waterbody (another issue in itself), and so what is really wrong with the fish species mix as determined by the Fish and Game Department? After a long haul across the ice with a plastic sled on Tubbs brand snow shoes, including some pressure ridge cracks with lots of water beneath an insulating snow cover I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to catch several different species – a couple very nice rainbows, as well as three very nice cuts that were released, and I think even a brown.

    It was -20 and no wind while fishing. Stayed warm constantly drilling holes with a hand auger. The return trip was much colder as the wind picked up. Snowshoes under the snow layer picked up water and refroze when exposed to the extremely cold moving air. Couldn’t get the fancy plastic snowshoe harness buckles to release with all the built up ice, and nearly had to cut them off before my fingers froze off. A number of whacks on the ice covering the buckles with the butt end of the knife finally allowed them to release. My fishing partner, more experienced than I in cold weather, had an old pair of Sherpa brand snowshoes with lace up harnesses that broke free quickly. He was sitting in the vehicle laughing his backside off, drinking nice warm coffee, as he watched my demise. Yes, I was grateful for the nice rainbows, but they took forever to thaw out before they could be cleaned.

    Would I, or other fishers, be grateful for a bit of balance in an already artificial waterbody? yes. Would the pelicans even be nesting here without the man-made waterbody? Don’t know because I am not familiar with the natural features of the waterbody before construction of the reservoir, but maybe not. The Indian farmers on the Fort Hall REservation (I this is a BIA owned structure maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers) who use the water for crop irrigation are no doubt reliant on the water source.

  12. JB Avatar

    Very interesting, Ken. In Sweet Home Chapter v. Babbitt (515 U.S. 687; 1995) the Supreme Court ruled that the modification of a species’ habitat could constitute “harm” as defined by the ESA and affirmed the Secretary’s ability to regulate/prohibit such actions. I don’t know of a similar ruling regarding the MBTA (?), but given the similarity of language, one would assume the same principle holds. Of course, the Court has become increasingly conservative in recent years, so who knows?

    Frankly, I don’t have a problem with IDF&G’s (re?)introduction of predators. They are using a “natural” (i.e. non-human) mechanism to regulate populations. However, more to Ralph’s point, I would be interested to know if studies have looked at the effects of both top-down (i.e. predation by pelicans) and bottom-up (i.e. competition with introduced/stocked species. Mark, do you all have data on this? If Yellowstone CT populations are suffering mostly due to competition, it would suggest that IDF&G’s effort at top-down predator control is misplaced. Frankly, even if this were the case, the effort might make sense in the short term, assuming there is a longer term plan to deal with other issues.

    I would be interested to hear Mark’s comments on the topic, if people could take a break from insulting him?

  13. Si'vet Avatar

    Predators, skunks and badgers were removed from Gull Island to provide a more successful goose nesting area. So this is simply returning the native predators back to their original habitat. This sounds very familiar to another predator reintroduction program. I believe these skunks and badgers are close to the same size as the ones removed. (tongue in cheek).

    1. JB Avatar

      Thanks, Si’vet.

    2. Cobra Avatar

      Seems to me at least IDFG are at least trying. They could just shoot the quotas needed and would not have to worry about the skunks and badgers getting out of hand. I’ve watched pelicans feeding and it’s quite a sight. We just started seeing them on the CDA chain of lakes the last couple of years. I’ve been here on these lakes for over 20 years and this is the first I’ve seen of them.

    3. ProWolf in WY Avatar
      ProWolf in WY

      You mean they aren’t Canadian badgers and skunks that weigh fifty pounds?

    4. Save bears Avatar
      Save bears

      Better watch out Pro, you have not seen them big double striped skunks we have around these parts, those things are monsters!

  14. Nathan Hobbs Avatar

    Is there a chance that the predators on the island will make the pelicans abandon the nesting site altogether?

    I thought they selected nesting sites on islands for a reason…

  15. Ken Cole Avatar

    I updated the link to a longer version of the story

    Also, according to an email I was forwarded this morning, this island hosts nesting ring-billed and California gulls, black-crowned night herons, snowy egrets, great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, Canada geese, several species of ducks, and caspian terns. Caspian terns are rare on inland lakes and reservoirs.

  16. Si'vet Avatar

    Nate, good question, also it would be interesting to know if pelicans were nesting there before the predators were removed. What an interesting paralell between this situtation of predator/prey on a micro scale,the paralell on a larger scale in YNP, then compared to Id./Mt./Wy. on a grand scale. If you or anyone haven’t had the chance, check out the old classic R is for Rocket, by Ray Bradbury, read the short story “The Time Machine”. Ray nailed it wayback then.

  17. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Seems to me, no matter what gets done on several of these issue, the SOP is your damned if you don’t and your damned if you do

  18. Ryan Avatar

    Can’t win for loosing, its better than oiling the eggs IMHO. Some locals dumped raccoons on sand island in the Columbia to get rig of the terns, ODFW promply removed them while they still try figure out what to do about the tern problem..

    Back story is that it is a man made island in the lower columbia that the terns took over and are now taking large quanities of ESA listed salmon smolts.

    1. WM Avatar


      Didn’t the Corps of Engineers (with help from OR Fish & Wildlife), who created and manage the island, do something to attempt to push the terns (and maybe cormorants) to a nesting area further downstream where they wouldn’t take as many smolt, and focus on other food fish? I have not been following that issue for quite awhile, so may have my facts screwed up.

  19. Ryan Avatar

    They were trying to get them to move down to Fern ridge in Eugene, they have had no luck so far. The estimated smolt take is 25 million+ with terns taking over half and cormorants taking the rest. There are literally 25,000+ cormorants down there it seems. I got to volunteer on a boat one day to shoot terns and cormorants for a study on what they were eating. They eat alot of smolts.

  20. Si'vet Avatar

    Pro wolf in WY, I’m sensing a slight tic of humor in that skunk comment!

    1. ProWolf in WY Avatar
      ProWolf in WY

      It is meant to be humorous but it is also to poke fun at the Canadian wolf belief.

  21. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Save bears, do those skunks smell worse too?

    1. Save bears Avatar
      Save bears


      Fortunately, I have never had occasion to find out!


  22. kt Avatar

    Well, Ken.

    That e-mail you received is interesting.

    i am betting at least SOME of those birds were already nesting when IDFG turned the egg and chick predators loose.

    Since they are migratory birds, sounds like “take” to me.

    Time to cite IDFG.

  23. Mark Gamblin (IDFG) Avatar
    Mark Gamblin (IDFG)

    Several good questions and comments regarding the pelican management plan implementation:
    Historically, the upper Blackfoot River YCT population has been the most productive and robust YCT population (number and size of fish) in the native range of the species. The loss of the adfluvial portion of the upper Blackfoot River YCT population would greatly weaken the viability of this important YCT population. It is true that there are other important wildlife resource management conflicts with the burgeoning Blackfoot Reservoir pelican nesting colony. Hatchery supported rainbow trout fisheries in other reservoirs within the foraging range of this nesting colony is one of those conflicts. Pelican predation on other YCT spawning runs in McCoy Creek (Palisades Reservoir tributary) and Henry’s Lake spawning tributaries is another important YCT management issue. However, those management concerns are secondary to the urgency of the risk of pelican predation to the Blackfoot Reservoir adfluvial YCT stock.
    Ralph repeated a commonly expressed misunderstanding of the management challenge pelican predation causes for the Blackfoot Reservoir adfluvial Yellowstone cutthroat trout (YCT) stock – that merits clarification. It is correct that a large percentage of the diet of the Blackfoot Reservoir pelican nesting colony is comprised of carp, Utah suckers and Utah chubs. However, the number of foraging pelicans, the overlapping timing of the pelican nesting season and the adfluvial cutthroat spawning run from the reservoir into the upper Blackfoot Reservoir and the vulnerability of the YCT spawners to pelican predation makes this cutthroat stock disproportionately vulnerable to pelican predation and most important – under low water conditions, pelican predation of YCT frequently removes a large percentage of spawners, jeopardizing the sustainability of the adfluvial YCT population in Blackfoot Reservoir. Our estimates of pelican predation are derived from radio-tagging telemetry data on YCT spawners and recovery of tags on Gull Island, the primary nesting island on Blackfoot Reservoir. We know that in low water years, pelican predation mortality has removed conservatively estimated to be substantially greater than 30% of the YCT spawning run. In 2004 pelican predation mortality for the YCT spawning run was greater than 33%, 70% of the total YCT spawning run were wounded or scarred by pelicans and the total YCT spawning escapement was only 125 fish. Growth of the Blackfoot Reservoir pelican nesting colony is rapidly increasing and low water years are occurring with increasing frequency. This year, we are again in drought conditions with less than 50% of normal snow pack in the Blackfoot River watershed. Pelican predation is a clear threat to the viability and sustainability of this critically important stock of YCT in the Blackfoot River drainage.
    JB asked what data do we have to document pelican impacts to the YCT population?
     Minimum pelican predation rates for YCT based on known pelican exploitation of tagged YCT
     Time series photo documentation of pelican foraging on vulnerable YCT spawners in a roughly two mile reach of the Blackfoot River
     Pelican wounding or scarring rates for YCT spawners as high as 70% of the total spawning run in low water years
     Annual population census data for the Blackfoot Reservoir nesting colony documenting the rapid growth of the colony

    The Pelican Management Plan can be viewed and downloaded from this linik to the IDFG web site:

  24. kt Avatar

    “the kind, life rendering pelican …”. This quote jumped out from PTV’s Hamlet.

    so fitting that IDFG would want to snuff out a symbol of kindness.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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