Idaho is spending about $650,000 this winter to feed elk, deer and antelope at 110 sites around the southern half of the state.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game on Wednesday said the severe winter prompted officials to declare four feeding emergencies in four regions to start the feeding of about 10,000 elk, 10,000 deer and 100 antelope.
"We know we are in a very significant winter," said Jon Rachael, state wildlife game manager.
Officials said about 7 percent of the state's elk population and 2 percent of Idaho's deer are being fed. The agency didn't report any feeding sites in the northern half of the state.
"Although it's an exceptional winter in the southern tier, it's closer to an average winter north of the Salmon River," said Ed Schriever, Fish and Game's deputy director of operations.
Money to pay for the feeding comes from fees paid by elk, deer and antelope hunters, the agency said. This year is turning out to be the most expensive feeding year since 2008.
Officials said the emergency feeding is intended to reduce damage to private crops, keep animals from roads and provide nutrition. In some areas, summer wildfires destroyed winter forage, prompting feeding in those locations.
State officials say deer and elk herds have grown with several years of mild winters, but numbers could decline this winter.
"The deer did not come (into winter) in the greatest shape," Rachael said. "So we are anticipating some mortalities despite our intensive efforts to feed deer where we can."
The agency said it has closed many of its wildlife management areas to public access to avoid stressing wildlife that will likely need to conserve energy to survive the rest of the winter.
It's monitoring more than 1,000 radio-collared deer and elk, which includes adults, fawns and calves. The agency said real-time information from those collars will give survival information and provide insights into overall populations as the winter advances.
In particular, the agency said it's concerned about mule deer herds in southern Idaho in areas that have experienced prolonged cold temperatures along with deep, crusted snow that makes it difficult for deer to break through to get food on wintering grounds.
Elk, the agency said, are hardier than deer but are being fed in many locations to keep herds away from agricultural areas and roads.