The Wood River Valley is experiencing a wave of excessive and unnecessary wildlife deaths caused by non-native toxic yew plants. These plants are commonly used in landscaping and ornamental holiday decorations such as wreaths and garlands. While Idaho’s native yew, Pacific or western yew, is generally not toxic to wildlife, non-native ornamental yews are toxic and can be lethal enough to kill big game, pets and even humans if ingested.

Photo of toxic yew, courtesy Lynn Kinter.

The issue of yew killing wildlife is not new to Idaho – and especially the Wood River Valley. Throughout the years, articles reporting cases of poisoned animals have filled our newspapers. In 2016, a moose calf and over 20 elk died in the Wood River Valley from yew poisoning. During this trying winter, the community united around the problem to remove these lethal plants. Blaine County passed an ordinance banning various types of yew within the county. Shortly after, the towns of Ketchum and Hailey passed similar ordinances banning the selling, purchasing, and ownership of these deadly plants. 

Photo of toxic yew, courtesy Ben Cadwallader.

Since the passage of those ordinances, wildlife deaths caused by yew initially decreased. But the problem has come back as residents have again been discovering big game fatally poisoned by yew in their yards. Since just the start of the year, Blaine County has lost nearly a dozen elk and a bull moose to yew. 

Necropsies of animals revealed toxic yew in their stomachs and mouths, with the animals usually dying within 200 yards of the plants they consume. Because the plants and deceased animals are usually located on private property with limited access, the full extent of the problem is unknown. Further investigations are needed to identify the locations of the problematic plants. 

A unified front, better education and enforceable ordinances are the way forward.

During the last outbreak of toxic yew deaths, counties and towns worked with residents to pass ordinances in Blaine County, Hailey and Ketchum. These efforts paid off and helped protect wildlife. But the solution is not a “one and done” approach. 

The 2020 census showed Blaine County’s population grew 14% in the last decade. These new residents and longtime locals alike may not be aware that they cannot bring or possess yew in the county, or of the dangers yew poses to wildlife. The county, cities and community members need to step up again and increase education and enforcement efforts and help all Wood River Valley residents understand the effects that these toxic plants are having  on the iconic species that share this valley with us. 

We know how to fix this issue: educate community members, enlist volunteers to help locate the problematic plants, and enforce our existing ordinances. 

  • Everyone has a role to play in protecting our wildlife, including homeowners, HOAs, property management and landscaping companies.
  • The cities and county must restart and continue ongoing education and community outreach into the future.
  • Education should be the first step, but local ordinances also need to be enforced. Living in close quarters with wildlife in the Wood River Valley necessitates that we learn how to coexist with wildlife without causing them undue harm.

Take action today and ask all cities in Blaine County to step up their educational efforts around yew and create or recommit to  enforceable ordinances to protect our wildlife from preventable deaths.