Summer is a popular time of year, not only for recreational shooters, but also for some ground squirrels and protected non-game birds that nest on the Idaho plains.
The temperatures are starting to rise and the days are long, and that’s good news for recreational shooters looking to get out of the city limits to shoot. Summer is a popular season for recreational shooters statewide, but it’s also a critical time of year for some non-game bird species that nest or are commonly found in popular shooting areas.
While most recreational hunters and shooters follow the law, Fish and Game law enforcement officials want to remind shooters that they are likely to encounter protected wildlife that is not game, and to pay a high price for pulling the trigger on a protected species.
Two men recently pleaded guilty to illegally capturing a golden eagle (a protected bird of prey) in the Morley Nelson Snake River National Raptor Conservation Area. A judge sentenced both men to two years probation, as well as a two-year ban on hunting and possession of firearms. They each had to pay restitution of more than $3,000.
A golden eagle was shot and killed west of Oakley in February 2020.
It is a shooter’s responsibility to know the law, and a good rule of thumb is to shoot at targets rather than wildlife, unless you know exactly what you are shooting at and are doing so legally.
“Illegal shooting of protected non-game wildlife such as owls, hawks, eagles and other birds such as long-billed curlews is a persistent and frequent problem in Idaho,” said Deniz Aygen, observable wildlife biologist at Fish and Game. “Long-billed Curlews and many species of raptors are identified by Fish and Game as most in need of conservation, and unfortunately substantial poaching occurs in areas that were established to aid in their conservation, but are also Widely used by recreational shooters.”
Nearly all non-game bird species found in Idaho are protected and therefore illegal to shoot. There are some non-native species that can be taken year-round with a valid hunting license, including European starlings, Eurasian collared doves, house sparrows and rock pigeons.
Shooting protected birds may seem harmless, but it has been shown to affect some bird populations.
Research published in 2020 shows that shooting at protected non-game species, specifically raptors and long-billed curlews, is more common in areas with high recreational shooter use and occurs more frequently than previously known.
Where was the study conducted? In southwestern Idaho, in the Morley Nelson Snake River National Bird of Prey Conservation Area.
The study suggested that illegal shooting may play a role in the observed long-term declines in the local long-billed curlew population in the conservation area, which had declined from more than 2,000 in the late 1970s to less than 200 in 2014. and now has fewer than 100 curlews.
The study also implied that a small segment of recreational shooters appear to be poaching protected non-game species while target shooting or hunting unprotected non-game species such as ground squirrels.
This time of year, many shooters target ground squirrels throughout the state. While there are some species of ground squirrels open to hunting, such as the Uinta or the Colombian ground squirrel, some ground squirrels are protected.
For example, northern and southern Idaho ground squirrels, rock squirrels, Piute ground squirrels (in eastern Idaho), Merriam ground squirrels, golden-mantled ground squirrels, and Wyoming ground squirrels ( in southwestern Idaho) are all protected species and should not be attacked.
If you can’t tell the difference between an unprotected and a protected species of ground squirrel, or any other wildlife, you shouldn’t target them.
Visit Fish and Game’s Ground Squirrel website for a complete list of protected and unprotected ground squirrel species before you head out.
Individuals can help preserve Idaho’s hunting and fishing heritage by reporting poaching. Make the call if something doesn’t seem right. Contact Citizens Against Poaching at 1-800-632-5999.