Seventeen elk recently died in central Idaho after being hit by a semi-truck. The accident happened on Monday night in Howe, Idaho. The truck was hauling cattle when the incident occurred.  “There was probably 50 to 100 [elk] in the road,” Brian Mays, a local rancher told East Idaho News. “[The truck driver] got 17 of them.”

Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) officials responded to the scene of the accident. Some of the elk were already dead while others were severely injured and had to be euthanized. Salvaging road kill is legal in Idaho, and officials say that local families recovered most of the meat.  “Elk meat is very good, and the economy being the way it is, people are all about getting some free fresh meat in the freezer,” said James Brower, IDFG regional communications manager. 

The accident occurred as big game animals are struggling with extreme snow depths in Idaho and elsewhere in the West. The large snowpack has concentrated animals near human infrastructure, including haystacks on ranches. In fact, the herd that was hit in Howe was standing on the road near a farmer’s haystack. 

Idaho usually doesn’t resort to feeding wildlife in winter. But this year, IDGF staff and volunteers have set up feeding locations away from more developed areas. They have also worked to haze wildlife away from farms, especially because wild ungulates like elk can carry diseases that can infect livestock. 

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Aside from this incident, several herds of wild elk have also been spotted on both sides of Interstate-15, a major artery in the area. Many of the elk are eating from haystacks next to the Interstate on Fort Hall Indian Reservation, which belongs to Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. A recent count tallied more than 6,500 elk trying to winter on the reservation this year—which is more than usual. 

“It has to do with habitat fragmentation,” said Tom Wadsworth, Shoshone-Bannock Fish and Game Department captain in a press release. “Recent fires have burned winter ranges all around us.”