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Yew Alert Sounded After Bull Moose is Poisoned in Ketchum
Thursday, January 26, 2023


A bull moose has died after eating an exotic yew plant in the backyard of a Ketchum residence.

The bull moon was found dead on Tuesday, Jan. 17, and a field necropsy conducted by an Idaho Fish and Game officer confirmed that the moose had consumed the toxic, noxious plant. The officer also noted that the overall body condition of the moose, as measured by the amount of body fat, was good.

Homeowners continue to harbor the toxic evergreen plants, which sometimes sport red berries, despite a 2016 Blaine County ordinance outlawing them. The ordinance was passed after 20 elk died from nibbling on yew plants in the county during the winter of 2015-16.

The City of Sun Valley sent out an urgent plea to homeowners to look for and discard yew plants two weeks ago after yew plants were identified within city limits.

Yew plants are among the deadliest plants on the planet, city officials noted. They can take the shape of  evergreen tree, shrubs or plants with a thin, scaly reddish brown bark and long, flat needles that are dark green on top and light green on the underside.

Representatives of the Blaine County Weed Department can help identify them for those who contact or 208-788-5574.

During the 2021-22 winter season, more than 20 elk died from eating ornamental yew in the Wood River Valley. The plant has also been blamed in the death of moose, deer and pronghorn, and it can poison  cattle, horses, dogs, cats, rabbits and children, as well. It takes just a small handful of needles for death to occur.

It’s believed that wildlife tend to eat the plants during winter months because they are evergreen, said Terry Thompson, communications manager for Idaho Fish and Game’s Magic Valley Region.

Fish and Game asks homeowners to completely remove yew from their yards. If that’s not possible until spring, they should securely fence the bushes or tightly wrap them with burlap so wildlife cannot get access to them.

The Ohio Gulch Transfer Station accepts yew debris free of charge, but the yew must be separate from other yard debris.

“I realize that it’s hard to dig up mature landscaping but everyone needs to do the right thing for wildlife, and even to protect your pets, by removing plants like exotic yew,” said Regional Wildlife Manager Mike McDonald. “It takes a surprising small amount of yew to kill an elk, deer or moose, which are all species that residents can see throughout the valley, almost daily.”

Yew, commonly used in ornamental plantings or landscaping, contains highly poisonous chemicals known as alkaloid taxines. Two species of yew, Japanese and European, are particularly toxic.

All parts of ornamental yews, including dried branches, contain the toxic alkaloids. The exception: the arils, the material that covers the seeds. The arils are edible and sweet, but the seed is dangerously poisonous.

The yew seeds are eaten by thrushes, waxwings and other birds, which digest the soft fleshy covering of the seed and disperse the hard seeds undamaged in their droppings.

In mammals, the digestive process can break down the leaves or seed coat and release the taxines into the body. This can have fatal results if yew berries are eaten without removing the seeds first.

Questions? Call the Magic Valley Regional Office at 208-324-4359 or the Blaine County Noxious Weed Department at 208-788-5574.

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