BOISE, Idaho -- A picture of elk quarters piled high on pallets was shared more than 5,600 times on Facebook in the last week, accruing nearly 700 comments and more than 1,000 "angry face" reactions.
The post from hunting and fishing group Idaho For Wildlife was one of several that circulated on social media decrying what critics called the "slaughter" of more than 200 elk carried out by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Commenters claimed the agency had harmed elk populations and accused it of cheating hunters out of the chance at a fair hunt.
Fish and Game officials said that's not the case. Mike McDonald, regional wildlife manager for the agency's Magic Valley Region, told the Statesman in a phone interview that some of the claims in the post missed the mark -- and his office was inundated with questions as a result.
"The way I look at it, people are asking questions because they care," McDonald said. "It's a good thing. ... It gave us an opportunity to explain what we're doing and set the record straight." McDonald said the elk were killed as part of a study conducted by a University of Idaho graduate student researching deterrents for elk depredation, or property damage caused by the big-game animals. The study took place across Southern Idaho from Pocatello to Nampa between July and October of 2019.
The project included four "treatments" for elk depredation: deterring the elk by using fences, driving them away with hounds, spraying a non-toxic but bitter-tasting substance on crops and, finally, shooting and killing some members of herds.
In all, 206 elk were shot and killed on private property in multiple hunting units by the graduate student and Fish and Game technicians, McDonald said. Since some of the animals had begun grazing exclusively at night to avoid previous deterrents, the hunts happened at night. McDonald said, at most, six animals were killed in one night at one location. Meat from the animals was processed by a local butcher and distributed to food banks.
Some posts about the elk research claimed 172 elk killed. McDonald said the true number, 206, may be jarring to some.
"That's a big number, and I understand that," McDonald said.
To put that in context, he said in two of the zones where the research was conducted, elk numbers combine for more than 18,000.
"It's way less than 1% of elk in the region," McDonald said.