Idaho Pelicans in the Crosshairs Again

Idaho Fish and Game wants to harass and kill pelicans down to half their present population-

IDFG is seeking comments thru April 2 on a long-term plan to manage pelicans for the next ten years.

The goal of the “Management Plan for the Conservation of American White Pelicans in Idaho 2016-2025” is to “maintain viable breeding populations of pelicans in Idaho while reducing impacts to native fish and recreational fisheries.”

The plan admits that pelicans are classified as a “species of greatest conservation need” in all eight western states in which they breed, including Idaho. In Idaho, this is due to “a low number of breeding colonies in Idaho” and “a vulnerable rangewide conservation status.”

However, the plan outlines actions to haze and kill pelicans across the state to halve their population.

Their crime? Eating fish.

IDFG is primarily concerned with pelican consumption of Yellowstone cutthroat trout in southeast Idaho—in particular, Palisades Reservoir.

IDFG is also concerned with their impacts on stocked rainbow trout and other sport fisheries.

The specific control actions planned include:

*Maintaining a statewide population of 2,800 breeding pelicans. But the current population is about 5,600. Therefore, IDFG wants to reduce the population by half.

*The plan outlines actions it will take in different regions across the state, to “achieve fish management goals,” including killing and hazing pelicans.

*As long as statewide abundance exceeds objectives, IDFG “will use dissuasion techniques where possible to prevent establishment of new colonies.” This is despite the fact that IDFG admits that “from strictly a pelican conservation standpoint it would be desirable to have additional breeding colonies in Idaho.”

The plan is disappointing. There is no discussion as to whether “fish management goals” should be altered in places, as opposed to killing pelicans.

The other threats to Yellowstone cutthroat trout, or other prized sport fisheries, are not discussed. IDFG admits elsewhere that:

Reduction in historically occupied range, habitat loss, fragmentation of current habitat, and isolation of existing populations, and hybridization with rainbow trout and other subspecies of cutthroat trout are the principal issues facing Yellowstone cutthroat trout (May, et al., 2003).

Perhaps IDFG should be spending more time partnering with other agencies to address these underlying problems, rather than scapegoating native pelicans.

Comments are accepted through April 2 and can be submitted online here:

American White Pelican Conservation Management Plan Idaho Fish and Game


  1. Joanne Gura Avatar
    Joanne Gura

    Thank you for the information…it just amazes me that so many of our govt. agencies use killing as its first choice instead of actually solving the problem…I wrote that to them in my comments, and suggested that those who follow that idea should get out of the animal protection line of work, once killing is your first suggestion, you are done saving animals…

  2. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    What (another) exercise in futility!

    Again, not addressing the other, more affecting factors in the threats to cutthroat trout. Again, it is more important to placate sportsmen (and ultimately, state revenues) than protecting all endangered creatures in the chain of endangerment we create. 🙁

  3. Larry Keeney Avatar
    Larry Keeney

    The premise I agree with: Protecting and enhancing the population of native fishes, especially native cutthroat. But I wonder how much thought and action has gone into enhancement of the ecosystem that the pelicans and native fish species have evolved in together for millennial. Could degradation of the system be the primary cause with the pelican successes the effect? Don’t know what streams or habitat that they deem the problem but do wonder if the money and time spent on targeting the one species, pelican, could be spent on enhancing streamside habitat for instance that would have a long term effect that would be smarter. Streamside plantings for shade and escape for fish and reducing or eliminating grazing up to and across streams. Streamside planting would provide the escape cover for fish at the same time hindering pelican success. When the killing approach is sought for enhancement to one species over another I have to ask how come species worked well together for millions of years without someone playing creator and using a heavy hand. Granted we have screwed this planet up so much that we sometimes can’t see the fish for the cows but I think taking a deep breath and looking back for answers is sometimes better than seeing what will fix it for tomorrow only. Just sayin’.

  4. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I drove to the Bruneau Sand Dunes last Saturday. The highlight of my trip was seeing about 100 White Pelicans on Duck Pond near the Snake River. About half of them were fishing as a flock near the center of the pond.

    My trip didn’t produce any revenue for the IDFG so they would consider my pelican viewing a waste of time. However, I filled my gas tank and had lunch in Mountain Home on my way there. Each of my purchases produced taxes for the state of Idaho. Some of that tax money should be shared with the IDFG so that bird viewing has some value to them. Until the state of Idaho provides extra sources of money for the IDFG, they will only listen to the Hook and Bullet crowd.

    1. Larry Keeney Avatar
      Larry Keeney

      Larry T., your thought absolutely spot on. Of course the first hand out would be feeding the wolf control board.

  5. Logan Avatar

    There is more to this issue than the author seems to be aware of. Pelicans are indeed native to Idaho but not in the current concentrations at the areas of concern. Pelicans thrive where islands provide them safe nesting colonies. Blackfoot reservoir, one of the primary areas of concern in the plan has several islands. The catch? They are only islands because of a manmade dam and reservoir. Lake Walcott is similar. The number of pelicans in the area far exceeds historical numbers that would exist if the manmade environment of the reservoir was not there.

    Now due to this manmade sanctuary, the pelicans have rapidly increased in numbers and are having a negative impact on another species that is listed as a species of concern. By the sound of it, this author would rather allow the pelicans to locally exterminate the Yellowstone cutthroat than reduce the population to a level that is sustainable with other native resources.

    Then to support her argument she cites a management report from 2003 stating that the primary issues facing the cutthroat are hybridization and habitat loss. That may have been the case in 2003 when the pelican population was only 400 statewide. Today the population exceeds 5,000. Is it so difficult to believe that such a dramatic increase could have an impact on the fisheries. Recent studies have shown that as high as 80% of spawning cutthroat from Blackfoot Reservoir have predation scars. During this same timeframe the numbers of spawning cutthroat have dropped from 4,747 in 2001 to an average of 650 since 2005. (ranging from 19 to 1,843)
    She goes on to make the snarky comment that: “Perhaps IDFG should be spending more time partnering with other agencies to address these underlying problems, rather than scapegoating native pelicans”

    First a reference:
    Perhaps she is unaware of all the work that has happened and is ongoing to restore cutthroat habitat and reduce conflicts with stocked rainbow trout. The USFS, IDFG and other groups have projects ongoing in other area watersheds to help the cutthroat. By suppressing the pelican population we can give time for these projects to bear fruit and for others to be completed. Or we can let the pelicans reduce Yellowstone cutthroat to a point that by the time the habitat is ready there won’t be many cutthroat left to benefit.

    Yellowstone cutthroat have a small localized range, pelicans inhabit 8 states in their western range. The greater threat is to the cutthroat, a local reduction of pelicans is preferable to any more losses to the cutthroat and won’t hurt the viability of pelican recovery.

    1. Larry Keeney Avatar
      Larry Keeney

      As always it’s good to turn the coin over to see what’s on the other side. But as always also, the other side of the coin says the real problem started with human manipulation of the environment.

    2. Professor Sweat Avatar
      Professor Sweat

      ” Pelicans thrive where islands provide them safe nesting colonies. Blackfoot reservoir, one of the primary areas of concern in the plan has several islands. The catch? They are only islands because of a manmade dam and reservoir. Lake Walcott is similar. The number of pelicans in the area far exceeds historical numbers that would exist if the manmade environment of the reservoir was not there.”

      Then perhaps making these nesting areas unsuitable for pelicans would force them to go somewhere else, rather than “suppressing” the pelican population. Why turn to wanton slaughter of a species when we have human ingenuity? Finding a way to deter pelicans from these islands would probably be more cost-effective than killing as well, because it can create a long-term solution.

      “Suppression” (so eloquent) is futile, because the birds will never stop breeding if they have the habitat to do so. I’m not at all satisfied with these “old-school” approaches to wildlife management. I’m not using a rotary phone to make my calls and wildlife managers can do better than just doing a little adding/subtracting with population numbers before making decisions in situations like these.

      1. Logan Avatar

        They have been trying to deter pelicans from using these islands for years. There is a lot of history of trying non-lethal methods here, it hasn’t worked.

        The IDFG even tried to introduce natural predators, (skunks and badgers) to the islands. They quickly swam back to the mainland.

  6. Viochita Fea Avatar
    Viochita Fea

    I pleaded with the agency, but you know they are still managed by medieval assumptions, not 21st century impending assaults and dangers.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    This is a very complicated issue. I believe the pelicans do take a lot of Yellowstone Cutts.

    More troubling to me is the report of them taking the rarer Bonneville cutts from Bear Lake while they spawn at the mouth of St. Charles Creek on the Idaho-Utah border.
    Idaho Fish and Game, however, does not tell us about all the rainbow trout (stocked in Blackfoot River Reservoir) or that 90% of the fish they eat are non-game fish such as the carp that the pelicans remove from BRR.

    It seems to me that cutthroat hybridization with the rainbow and the pernicious effects of the phosphate strip mine runoff plus the ever present cattle of the welfare ranchers on public land are bigger factors.

    It is true that techniques like oiling pelican eggs and trying to harass them off the reservoir islands where they breed has not been very effective. It takes a lot of personnel.

    A hidden issue is the pelican offtake of planted rainbow, not just in BRR but in the many small irrigation reservoirs scattered throughout southeast Idaho such as Chesterfield Res., Daniels Res., Devil Creek Res., etc.

    Folks should read IDF&G’s new pelican management plan. It is full of information.

    1. Logan Avatar

      All good points.

      IDFG did switch to fall stocking of rainbow trout in many area reservoirs to reduce the number of fish lost to pelicans.

      They also only stock tryploid (sterile) rainbow trout. However, that doesn’t mean that small wild populations are not persistent in native cutthroat range. Weirs on spawning tributaries are used to stop rainbows from migrating to spawning streams to prevent hybridization. Both efforts have shown positive results.

      The grazing issues and mining issues still need work before full stream restoration can occur. This will take time.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        This is good information. I had forgotten about the triploid rainbow.

  8. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    Thanks Logan for the insightful information as it appears you are quite aware of this issue. Contrary to some visitors on this site; government agencies in general take a “hard look” at issues before making decisions. The decision to haze and kill pelicans did not come without a lot of analysis and justification.

    I think it’s important to become informed about an issue before commenting and that’s why I will read the plan first.


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Barrie Gilbert