Wildlife management areas another gem for Idaho

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has 32 wildlife management areas, with all but the Salmon Region home to at least two.

Over the course of my career as a wildlife biologist for Idaho, I visited the majority of the WMAs in one capacity or another. However, my wife has not been as fortunate, and we decided to make an effort this fall to see and video as many as we could in one trip.

We routinely visit all six WMAs in the Upper Snake Region so I counted them as already visited, leaving 26 to go.

We cheated a little by first visiting most of the WMAs in the Pocatello or Southeast Region (we missed Sterling WMA near Aberdeen) several days before our trip began in earnest. We knew we would miss the fall colors there if we put it off.

We started with the Portneuf WMA, located on the east side of Interstate 15 between Inkom and McCammon. It is best accessed by exiting the interstate at Inkom and following the old highway south. If you want more specific directions to any of the WMAs I will cover in the next few weeks, go to idfg.idaho.gov, click on the Wildlife tab then the Wildlife Management Area tab.

The autumn colors at Portneuf were spectacular, especially in the evening as they glowed in the fading sun. We had the potential to see sharp-tailed grouse and mule deer but didn’t luck out this time.

The next morning, we were up before the sun to arrive at Georgetown Summit WMA east of Soda Springs. During the winter, this place is alive with wintering deer and elk. During the summer it attracts fishermen to the Bear River. The Oregon Trail crosses the summit and parallels the highway for a mile or more.

Montpelier WMA was next on the list. Sitting on the foothills above Montpelier, this WMA has very little vehicular access but has a decent trail. On advice from the manager, we took a steep and rough road across Highway 89 to the top of a ridge where we had an overview of the WMA at a distance.

Then it was back to Soda Springs and north on Highway 34. About 15 miles from town we turned right up the Blackfoot River Road. In another 15 miles we arrived at the Blackfoot River WMA, which houses the headwaters of the Blackfoot River where Diamond Creek and Lane’s Creek join. With an extensive riparian bottom that complements a meandering Blackfoot River, this place is a nirvana for fishermen. Despite the ever-present phosphate mining, it is still a beautiful area and Cathy was quickly making plans to return next summer.

From Blackfoot River we took the Blackfoot River/Bone Road home (a two hour trip), beginning our road trip. The first overnight stop was the Big Cottonwood WMA south of Burley. We have seen golden eagles, great horned owls, mule deer and turkeys among other things. This isn’t a large WMA, but provides access to thousands of acres of BLM property.

Seeing essentially the entire state of Idaho during this wonderful time of year and highlighting areas managed specifically for wildlife and wildlife-based recreation will make this trip memorable. We will keep you posted over the next two weeks as we discover or re-discover awesome things about our state.

Terry Thomas is a wildlife biologist and naturalist with 30 years of experience. “The Best of Nature,” a collection of more than 100 of Thomas’s best nature essays is now available. Pick up your copy at the Post Register or order one through his website, nature-track.com