HAILEY - Elk are dying in Hailey, and at least one was trapped in a resident's house in the area, after mountain snow levels have driven them into the Wood River Valley, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said.
"It is one of those years, we have a lot of elk and we have our first normal snow levels in the past five years and elk are being pushed into the valley and getting into trouble," said Daryl Meints, Magic Valley Fish and Game regional wildlife manager.
At the Hailey Cemetery on Tuesday, 10 elk died after eating a bush called the Japanese Yew.
"Japanese Yew is known to be extremely toxic," Meints said. "This has happened before in the Wood River Valley and other places around the state to both elk and moose."
Since then, the Yew has been removed from the grounds, and Fish and Game officers removed the dead elk from the cemetery. In another incident, Fish and Game said a lone cow elk fell in a window well and was trapped in a resident's basement. Matthew Siegel, a homeowner just outside Hailey city limits, was awakened at around 12:45 a.m. Wednesday when a cow elk ended up in a basement bedroom after falling through a window well.
"It's Plexiglass and able to hold a couple hundred pounds, but obviously not a full elk," Siegel said. "To see a full size elk standing in your downstairs living room when you get down there is something that you'd never expect."
After hours of unsuccessful attempts to get the elk out of the home, Blaine County sheriff's deputies and Fish and Game officers drove the elk up the basement stairs and out the front door by barricading a path with furniture.
"It took us about 2.5 hours, but we got her out uninjured," said Alex Head, Fish and Game senior conservation officer. "The basement will need a good, deep cleaning, but we are glad it worked out as well as it did."
The elk did end up with a minor cut on her neck that left blood on the Siegels's floor.
"There is some pretty good damage. I mean, the window is totally destroyed... It looks pretty nasty down there," Siegel told KTVB.
He is hoping homeowners insurance will cover the costs of damage. He says this is the first time in four years that he has seen elk right there in his neighborhood. Fish and Game says that's because there hasn't been enough snow in recent years to push them out of the high country and into lower, more visible, areas where forage is available.
"You're seeing them in downtown Twin Falls," Fish and Game Regional Conservation Educator Kelton Hatch said. "In Boise you're seeing a lot more deer and elk move down to the foothills and stuff, and up there in Sun Valley."
Other elk are being hit and killed on area roads, Fish and Game said. Idaho Department of Transportation is encouraging drivers to pay special attention on I-84 near Mountain Home.
"Particularly during dawn and dusk hours when elk and deer may be on the move looking for food," ITD Communications Officer Jennifer Gonzalez told KTVB.
Fish and Game is urging drivers to be aware, watch the shoulder of the road and go slow enough that you can react if an elk or deer happens to jump in front of your car.
"The best thing for people to do is slow down when driving, when you have elk in your backyard give them a wide berth and don't push them, and if you have a problem call Fish and Game or local city police or the county sheriff," Meints said
People having problems with winter wildlife can call the Idaho Fish and Game Magic Valley Regional Office at (208) 324-4359.