Defending the River of No Return's wolves, elk, and Wilderness in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Wilderness Watch, joined with Western Watersheds Project and Friends of the Clearwater, was at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland last week. We defended our successful federal court injunction against the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's (IDFG) major helicopter-supported elk (and wolf) capturing and collaring project in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (FC-RORNW) in central Idaho.
As you may recall, in January 2017, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Forest Service illegally authorized IDFG to conduct approximately 120 helicopter landings to place radio collars on elk in the Wilderness in an operation during which IDFG also unlawfully collared four wolves.
The court further ruled in 2017 that 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.
The 2017 ruling concluded 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 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.
IDFG’s helicopter-supported elk (and wolf) capturing and collaring project represents the most significant motorized intrusion ever approved within a national forest Wilderness, where motorized access is generally banned. The project was being conducted as part of the State of Idaho’s egregious plans to eventually kill more than half of the wolves in the River of the No Return Wilderness to artificially inflate elk numbers for hunters.
At last week’s hearing, our attorney—Tim Preso from Earthjustice—did a great job arguing in front of the three-judge 9th Circuit Panel. You can watch the proceedings here.
We’ll keep you posted when we get a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In the meantime, please support Wilderness Watch’s ongoing legal efforts to defend Wilderness and wildlife like elk and wolves.