One Idaho County Looks At Ways To Remedy Elk Deaths From Poisonous Shrubs

Jan 27, 2016

More than a dozen elk have died this winter in the Wood River Valley. Biologists think the animals have eaten ornamental yew, a non-native shrub some people have planted in their yards. The bright green plants can be shaped into those intricate topiaries you see in English or Japanese gardens.

But the plant contains deadly alkaloids that are poisonous to elk. According to Idaho Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jake Powell, the plant can kill an elk within a few hours, sometimes even minutes. Powell says the Wood River Valley has been an elk winter forage area for thousands of years – before the non-native plant was brought to the area.

“Because so much of the valley is now covered in houses and subdivisions and developments," says Powell, "it creates problems for elk and other wildlife at a time of year that is really critical for their survival.”

The biologist says elk come down to the valley to eat because of heavy snow in the mountains.

Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg says officials have received emails from residents concerned about the elk deaths. Greenberg says the commission is considering a few different measures to deal with the problem, including a public awareness campaign about poisonous yew, or an ordinance that would fine people who don’t remove their plants.

Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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