Deep in the Sawtooth National Forest, where winter can be harsh, hungry elk are waiting patiently.

They are waiting for Idaho Department of Fish and Game employees to arrive by snowmobile and distribute sacks of compressed alfalfa pellets."They don't rove too much," says Rusty Anderson, a Fish and Game employee.

Elk stick close to the feed sheds - which hold 90 tons of food. In groups of 100 or more, they mill around and transform the area near the sheds into a trampled, muddy mess.

The premise behind winter feeding is simple, says Lonn Kuck, state big game manager for Fish and Game in Boise.

"It's heavy snow country and very difficult for many of those elk to make it," Kuck says.

Critics maintain that winter feeding is too expensive, and more feeding leads to more elk than the land can support. Elk in the South Fork of the Boise River drainage are descendants of animals that were imported from Yellowstone National Park in 1915, Palmer says.