Lance J. Schuster

Schuster

Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse. Duet. 11:26

A blessing and a curse. We are blessed in Idaho with an abundance of wildlife. However that same blessing can be a curse for farmers and ranchers.

Herds of deer and elk are often found wintering at lower elevations. Moose wander down from the mountains into the valleys looking for food. Antelope make daily raids on green fields of alfalfa in the summer.

Wildlife can be a headache for farmers and ranchers as they know no boundaries, and move easily from public to private property. Wildlife can raid hay fields, or in the winter, hay stacks. Farmers can lose thousands of dollars of crops to wildlife.

With a few exceptions, it is illegal for farmers and ranchers to shoot or harass wildlife that have entered upon private property. A farmer or rancher can shoot an elk or a deer that is on his property if he has a license and a tag and is otherwise harvesting an animal during a lawful hunting season. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game also conducts special depredation hunts to relieve big game damage problems in agricultural areas. These hunts are typically held on short notice and in small areas to relieve a farmer or rancher from a problem.

Fish and Game has a policy to reimburse private landowners, farmers, ranchers, fruit growers and even beekeepers from financial losses caused by wildlife. The Idaho Legislature provides funds to compensate individuals for their losses.

A farmer or rancher who has been damaged by wildlife is required to notify Fish and Game within 72 hours of identifying the damage. A claimant is required to also give written notice within 20 days of having discovered the damages. While Fish and Game will typically cover an operation’s crop loss, it will not cover ancillary losses, like damages to fences or corrals caused by deer and elk.

This year, the Idaho Legislature made some changes to the law, including requiring landowners to have given reasonable access to hunters during the preceding hunting season so as to reduce depredation by wildlife. In addition, claims for less than $750 are not reimbursable.

In addition, Fish and Game is authorized to control, trap or remove animals from a farmer or rancher’s property so as to stop damage to the property or crops. Fish and Game may also grant permission to landowners to trap, control or remove animals, but any animals so taken shall remain property of the state.

Lastly, Fish and Game is authorized to make agreements with landowners to allow continued use of the lands by the animals where crop damage is occurring. Such an agreement may provide for financial compensation to the owner of the property.

While the prevention of depredation is a priority management objective of the department, farmers and rancher will have to continue to live with the blessing and curse of wildlife.

Lance J. Schuster is a lawyer at Beard St. Clair Gaffney in Idaho Falls. He and his wife raise kids, alfalfa and a few cattle on their small farm near Idaho Falls. He can be reached at 523-5171 or lance@beardstclair.com.

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