Idaho Breaks Agreement Using Helicopter Drops to Collar Wolves in Frank Church Wilderness

Idaho Fish & Game Department could use collars to track and kill wolves in the wild


Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2084

Today the Idaho Fish & Game Department admitted that it broke an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service and used helicopter landings to collar wolves in the Frank Church River Of No Return Wilderness. This follows less than a week after Earthjustice filed a legal challenge to the state’s plans to conduct over 120 helicopter landings as part of a program to manipulate wildlife populations in the wilderness.

At 2.4-million acres, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness is the largest contiguous unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the lower-48.

The following is a statement from Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso on behalf of Wilderness Watch, Friends of the Clearwater, and Western Watersheds Project:

“The Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s admission today is egregious and adds insult to injury. Though Idaho claimed it needed authorization for 5–10 days of helicopter landings between January and the end of March for this helicopter elk-collaring project, it rushed to complete its operations in the first three days after the Forest Service issued a permit, before the court could even consider whether that action is legal. Now we learn that the state compounded its degradation of wilderness character by taking action that even the Forest Service did not authorize—collaring wild wolves in the wilderness in addition to 60 elk.

“Idaho has made its intentions with respect to the wilderness wolf population abundantly clear: Idaho has a plan in place that calls for killing 60 percent of the wolf population in the Middle Fork area of the wilderness to artificially inflate elk numbers to benefit a small number of commercial outfitters and recreational hunters. Idaho is not pursuing that program this winter only because we challenged this activity in court, but we have no guarantees as to subsequent winters. There is every reason to believe that these new wolf collars will be used by a state trapper to locate wolves for the purpose of killing them in pursuit of a program to manipulate wildlife populations that is fundamentally at odds with the concept of wilderness.

Charles (Chuck) Peterson / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The River of No Return Wilderness 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.

“As the federal steward of the River of No Return, the Forest Service has a clear duty to protect the wilderness from degradation caused by unjustified helicopter intrusions and from IDFG’s illegal wolf collaring. The Forest Service must not sit idly by while IDFG flouts its authority and the mandates of the Wilderness Act.

“We intend to bring the Forest Service and Idaho’s actions before the federal court to ensure there are no more unjustified helicopter intrusions in one of the premiere wilderness areas in the United States. Our view is simple: The River of No Return country is a wilderness, not an elk farm, and we intend to restore the rule of law to the management of this premiere wild landscape that belongs to all of the American people.”

Members of the Monumental pack in the  Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
Members of the Monumental pack in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. (Photo provided by Hobbit Hill Films LLC)

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