1909 - Game Preserves

An estimated 107,000 elk roam the State of Idaho today. Yet, a hundred years ago elk were so few the State declared a moratorium on elk hunting in parts of the state. 

In 1909, concerned about the decline in elk, deer and game birds, Boise National Forest Supervisor Emile Grandjean asked the State Legislature to establish a 220,000-acre game preserve in the Payette River drainage west of the Sawtooth Mountains. 

The Legislature approved the preserve on March 13, 1909 and it became the first of many game preserves especially designed to restore wildlife to Idaho. 

It would be off-limits to hunting and trapping – except that cougars, lynx, wolves and coyotes could be killed by wardens. And forest rangers would act as deputy game wardens. 

Emile Grandjean, who served as supervisor of the original Boise National Forest until 1922, continued to call for more game preserves to protect elk, deer, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. He was made an honorary member of the Idaho Sportsmen’s Association in 1910.

In 1915, state Game Warden Jerel B. Gowen noted that the 25 elk in the Payette game preserve established in 1909 had grown to 200 by 1912.  He further noted that the thousands of elk that once roamed the state had been reduced by a lack of protection to a few straggling herds.

Motivated to repeat the early success at Payette, Gowen petitioned the Interior Department for 70 elk to be relocated to Idaho. The department approved the transfer of 50 surplus elk from Yellowstone National Park on the condition that Idaho protect them in a game preserve.

In the Biennial Report of the Fish and Game Warden for the years 1913-1914, Jerel B. Gowen reported:

“Recently this Department made application to the Secretary of the Interior for seventy head, or two carloads, of elk from the Yellowstone National Park. The application was passed upon favorably for fifty head, to be turned out on the Weiser National Forest, providing the Department would furnish a deputy to be in charge to prevent the elk from being killed until such time as the legislature would pass a law making the Weiser Reserve a permanent game preserve. This Department has had the active co-operation of all the citizens of Washington and Adams counties in this matter. They have agreed to furnish winter feed and corrals for elk, and it is the intention to turn the elk loose in two bands, one west of Council and another west of New Meadows in the Seven Devils Mountains. This is an ideal elk range and by making a permanent game preserve, and with the assistance given by the Forestry Department, in a very few years this part of Idaho will be restocked with this valuable animal.”

Gowen recommended a preserve in the Seven Devils Mountains. The Idaho Legislature approved the preserve in 1915 and it became known as Black Lake Preserve. The 50 elk were brought from Yellowstone by train and held in corrals. They were eventually released west of Council at Black Lake once the Idaho Legislature approved the game preserve.

The Legislative Act creating preserves made it “unlawful for any person or persons, at any time, to hunt, trap, kill, capture or chase any birds or game animals of any kind-or description whatever-within the limits of the said boundary and any person violating the provisions of the act was deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction would be fined the sum of not less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00 or imprisoned in the county jail for a period of not less than 3 months nor more than 1 year.”

The elk at Black Lake Preserve were the first of several elk transfers from Yellowstone to Idaho.  Later in 1915, 65 were brought to the Boise River above Arrowrock Dam and 65 to Bannock County. In 1916, 21 were brought to Shoshone County. In later years, 125 were brought to Owyhee County in 1944 and 1946, and another 40 to Bannock County in 1946.

Additional game preserves were created in 1915 in Bannock, Power and Franklin counties with hunting suspended for five years on elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain, pheasants and quail. The Lewiston Orchards also was declared a game bird preserve.

In 1917, the Big Creek preserve was added on the south side of the Salmon River east of the Middle Fork; the Selway preserve was added in the upper Clearwater; and the Big Lost River preserve in the upper Lost River drainage.

 In the Biennial Report of the Fish and Game Warden for the years 1917-1918, W.H Thorp reported:

“Need Additional Game Preserves:
Idaho cannot have too many game preserves. While we do not favor their indiscriminate creation, which would result in closing for hunting many sections of the state that should be open, at the same time there should be no hesitancy in creating them in various parts of Idaho so that the Department can from time to time stock them with many species of wild life and feel assured that thereafter they will be protected, and being protected, propagate rapidly.
The Department has found that protected game in these preserves, do well. Two hundred head of elk have been shipped into the state and placed in these preserves. Some of them went into the Black Lake preserve in Adams and Idaho counties, some into Minidoka county, some in Bannock county and the balance in Elmore and Boise counties, above Arrowrock Dam. The elk have done splendidly. They naturally take to the mountain country, making themselves very much at home. Wherever they have been so located they have propagated until the number is much larger now than originally. The state should continue the policy of transplanting the elk, gradually locating them in those sections of the state where it is shown by actual experiments that they will do the best. Deer and elk are on the increase in the state.”

By 1925, eleven big game preserves were legislatively created in Idaho, six of which were in national forests.  Along with preserves, Fish and Game established a number of sanctuaries. These were also for the protection of game, primarily elk, and some for birds and waterfowl. Combined, the two classifications – preserve and sanctuary - involved three-million acres mostly located on National Forest lands.

By the 1940s, targeted wildlife species had increased enough that there was a push to abolish many of the preserves and sanctuaries. Today, only four small preserves remain officially designated as Wildlife Preserves under Idaho law: Myrtle Creek Preserve, David Thompson Preserve, Lewiston Preserve and the Springfield Bird Preserve.

Title 36, Chapter 19 defines Wildlife Preserves and their purpose as: “The wildlife preserves herein described are created for the better protection of wild animals and birds, for the establishment of breeding places therefore and for the preservation of the species thereof.”  

The purpose hasn’t changed in more than 105 years.