Elk are wandering around the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory as federal and state authorities look for ways to push them out.
Since 1986, the elk population on the federal reservation has climbed, with a record 353 surveyed in February, according to studies by the Environmental Science and Research Foundation in Idaho Falls.
About 240 were located in an area on the west side of the site that burned in 1994.
The herds migrate in from several mountain ranges, including the Lost River and Lemhi. The elk already at the INEEL also produce an average of 35 calves per 100 cows each year.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists believe a group that migrates from the Lemhi Range onto farms in late summer uses the INEEL as a refuge during depredation and general-season hunts.
They eat alfalfa and grain, or stomp across damp potato fields.
Safety and security concerns largely preclude hunting on most of the INEEL, although some experimentation has occurred over the years. The elk avoid hunters by moving farther into the reservation during the day, then returning to feed on farm ground at night.
As a result, Fish and Game pays landowners to offset the loss of their crops.
Although problems significantly decreased after some of those animals were captured and removed in 1993, they’re on the rise again. Several national forests in Idaho and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have expressed interest in taking on the errant elk.
Other options such as fences and planting lure crops are deemed expensive and likely to fail.
This year, a 300-permit, antlerless elk hunt will be allowed from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31 to deal with migratory herds.
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