[MCN] For immediate release: Court Rules That Forest Service Illegally Authorized Helicopter Intrusions in Premiere Wilderness Area

Dawn Serra dserra at wildernesswatch.org
Thu Jan 19 17:26:53 EST 2017

/For immediate release – Jan. 19, 2017/

*Contact*: Timothy Preso, Earthjustice, 406-586-9699
Kevin Proescholdt, Wilderness Watch, 612-201-9266
Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater, 208-882-9755
Ken Cole, Western Watersheds Project, 208-429-1679

*Court Rules That Forest Service Illegally Authorized Helicopter 
Intrusions in Premiere Wilderness Area*

/Idaho Must Destroy Data Obtained From Illegal Elk and Wolf Collaring/

POCATELLO, Idaho – A federal judge today ruled that the U.S. Forest 
Service illegally authorized the Idaho Department of Fish and Game 
(IDFG) to conduct approximately 120 helicopter landings to place radio 
collars on elk in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness last 
winter in an operation during which IDFG also unlawfully collared four 

As a result, the court ruled, the Forest Service and IDFG are prohibited 
from using any data obtained from the illegally installed elk and wolf 
collars in future project proposals, IDFG must destroy the data received 
from the illegal collars, and the Forest Service must delay 
implementation of any future helicopter projects in the wilderness for 
90 days to allow time for legal challenges.

“Today’s decision vindicates the basic principle that a wilderness is 
supposed to be a wild area where, as Congress said, ‘the earth and its 
community of life are untrammeled by man,’ not a helicopter landing 
zone,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill concludes that 
the Forest Service violated the Wilderness Act and conducted 
insufficient environmental review in allowing IDFG to land helicopters 
in the River of No Return in January 2016 to capture and place radio 
telemetry collars on wild elk. IDFG also captured and radio-collared 
four wolves during these operations—an unauthorized action that was not 
permitted by the Forest Service, but that threatened to advance IDFG’s 
plans to undertake widespread wolf-killing in the wilderness by 
providing locational information on the collared wolves. The federal 
Wilderness Act prohibits the use of motorized vehicles including 
helicopters and requires preservation of natural conditions in 
wilderness areas.

The judge found that these circumstances present “the rare or extreme 
case” where an injunction requiring destruction of the illegally 
obtained radio-collar data is required, stating: “The IDFG has collected 
data in violation of federal law and intends to use that data to seek 
approvals in the future for more helicopter landings in the Wilderness 
Area. … The only remedy that will directly address the ongoing harm is 
an order requiring destruction of the data.”

The helicopter operations that were illegally permitted by the Forest 
Service are part of IDFG’s broader program to inflate elk numbers above 
natural levels within the wilderness by eliminating wolf packs that prey 
on the elk. IDFG’s existing elk and predator management plans call for 
exterminating 60 percent of the wolf population in the heart of the 
River of No Return to provide more elk for hunters and commercial 
outfitters in an area that receives some of the lightest hunting use in 
the state.

Earthjustice represented Wilderness Watch, Friends of the Clearwater, 
and Western Watersheds Project in challenging the Forest Service’s decision.

“This action by the Forest Service and IDFG violated everything that 
makes Wilderness unique,” said Wilderness Watch conservation director 
Kevin Proescholdt. “It was an unprecedented intrusion with helicopters 
for the sole purpose to make wildlife populations in Wilderness conform 
to the desires of managers rather than accept and learn from the ebb and 
flow of nature.”

Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater added, “Wilderness, by law, 
is in contrast to areas that are heavily manipulated. Capturing elk with 
net guns from helicopters is heavy-handed manipulation and denigrates 
the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.”

“This motorized intrusion on one of our premiere wild areas was made all 
the worse by the fact that the Forest Service allowed the state to turn 
natural wolf predation on elk into a reason to degrade the wilderness 
with helicopter landings,” said Ken Cole, Western Watersheds Project’s 
Idaho director. “We hope the court’s ruling will compel the Forest 
Service to prioritize compliance with the Wilderness Act in future 

At 2.4 million acres, the River of No Return is the largest contiguous 
unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the Lower 48. It 
hosts abundant wildlife including elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, 
wolves, cougars, and wolverines. It is one of the few public-land 
wilderness areas of sufficient size to allow natural wildlife 
interactions to play out without human interference, and for this reason 
was one of the original wolf reintroduction sites in the Northern Rockies.

/Earthjustice, the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law 
organization, wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to 
protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to 
advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. Because the earth 
needs a good lawyer./
# # # # #


Dawn Serra
Communications and Outreach Coordinator*
Wilderness Watch
*P.O. Box 9175
Missoula, MT 59807
P: 406.542.2048

www.wildernesswatch.org <http://www.wildernesswatch.org>
“Like” WW on Facebook 

Follow WW on Twitter <https://twitter.com/WildernessWatch>
Donate <https://wildernesswatch.crm.salsalabs.org/webDonation/>
/*/Wilderness Watch/*///defends our 110 million-acre National Wilderness 
Preservation System.


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