By Eric Barker
Elk and deer are crazy for salt, and that craving, exploited by unethical and illegal hunters, is getting them killed, according to conservation officers at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
But poachers aren’t the only ones taking advantage of illegal salt baits that attract deer and elk like yellow jackets to a plate of picnic food. Predators such as wolves, mountain lions and bears have learned staking out a salt lick leads to an easy meal and the diner is almost always open.
“Folks really get upset with predators and what wolves are doing to our wild populations, and justly so, but when you put an illegal salt out, what you have done is made predators — including wolves — very effective,” said Barry Cummings, senior conservation officer at Moscow. “While a hunter may take an elk or deer off that salt in a year, predators are hunting it year-round.”
In Idaho, it is illegal to hunt deer and elk over salt or other baits. But it is commonly done and has been for decades. Conservation officers say it seems to be more closely associated with the archery hunting season that is open now in many areas.
“It is a pervasive problem. It is spread all over,” said conservation officer Lucas Swanson at Powell. “Certain times of the year, like this time of year, I find out about new salt baits on a weekly basis. You can just about name a mountain ridge or a big area and I could tell you, in my area, where there is a salt bait.”
Officers frequently conduct stakeouts of their own on illegal salt baits. Sometimes they do so in person, but the advent of trail cameras has made it a little easier for them to bust violators. Cummings said officials typically write about 10 citations a year in the Clearwater region. Last year, he busted a father-and-son hunting team from Potlatch. They ended up pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges, were fined hundreds of dollars, had their bows and tree stands confiscated and lost hunting privileges for a year. More....