Agency extends search for escaped domestic elk

SUNDAY, OCT. 15, 2006

IDAHO FALLS – The state Department of Fish and Game has extended its emergency search for dozens of domestic elk that escaped from a hunting reserve near Yellowstone National Park.

The search has been conducted on private land by landowners and on public lands by licensed hunters with valid elk tags. The search of private lands will continue till Oct. 31, while the public-lands portion ended Saturday.

“We believe that there are still a number of domestic elk at large,” Steve Schmidt, Fish and Games regional supervisor, told the Idaho Falls Post Register. He said the public hunt was not extended because of concerns about hunters trespassing on private land.

As many as 160 domesticated elk broke through a hole in wire fencing at veterinarian Rex Rammell’s Chief Joseph private hunting reserve near Rexburg in mid-August.

Concerned the farm-raised elk could spread disease and pollute the genetic pool of wild herds, Gov. Jim Risch issued an emergency order Sept. 7 authorizing state officers to search out and destroy as many of the elk as possible.

When state agency shooters killed only 15 domestic elk between Sept. 9 and 15, Risch and the Fish and Game Commission decided to open a special hunt for private landowners and licensed hunters. So far, 33 domestic elk and seven wild elk have been killed in the emergency hunt.

Wayne Hoffman, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, said the first 12 elk killed have tested negative for brucellosis and red deer-hybrid genes.

Rammell has said his elk are genetically pure and free of disease. “I knew they’d come back negative,” he said. “I predicted (state officials) would have mud on their faces for saying there was disease when there wasn’t.”

Fish and Game officials have said they are not sure how many of Rammell’s elk remain in the wild. He says 12 of his animals are still loose.

“We’ve been capturing a few here and there almost every day,” he said.

Rammell is selling his remaining elk to Jeff Lerwill of Rexburg. He recently sold the hunting reserve to a California man.

“Ownership will change hands at the end of the year,” he said.

Earlier this month a hunter participating in the emergency hunt shot and killed an elk inside the reserve. He told state officials he thought the elk was outside the fence on public land.

“It was one of my good bulls,” Rammell said. “They’re so hell-bent on killing that they’ll shoot anything now.”


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