For the second year in a row, a group of about 70 elk have wandered into the Sugar City area and temporarily stacked up against U.S. Highway 20 north of Rexburg.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has put out snacks in hopes of luring the elk away from the highway, but so far, the elk are doing as they please. Tuesday night the group splintered — about 20 elk crossed Highway 20 going west and joined other elk wintering near the Sand Dunes. The remaining 50 elk moved east away from the highway and have settled in for the time being.
James Brower, Fish and Game communications director, said the elk moved down from the Teton River Canyon.
“These are the same elk coming from the same place,” Brower said. “We have some collars monitoring them so we know where they are coming from.”
Last February, six elk from this same herd were struck and killed on Idaho Highway 33 shortly after midnight. Idaho Department of Transportation posted warning signs this week on Highway 33 and Highway 20 hoping to avoid the same tragedy this winter.
“The consensus is they are just going on a walkabout,” Brower said. “The snow is deep in a lot of places because of drifting but for the most part they can find places where the snow isn’t all that deep.”
He said Fish and Game has people constantly monitoring the situation in case the 500- to 700-pound animals need a crossing guard on the highway.
“The concern is that an elk can move fast and the lead cow could get a hankering and decide they want to be on the west side of the highway,” Brower said. “There’s still potential for them to cross the roads. We are really concerned with motorists making sure that they are aware that they are around and need to be cautious in the area. If they get up and decide to move, there’s no stopping them at that point.”
Fish and Game has three emergency conditions that can trigger winter feeding. Those include preventing damage to private property, such as damage to haystacks; public safety concerns, such as elk congregating near a busy highway; and harsh winter conditions.