Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark says he found it “unbelievable” when he learned Tuesday that an Idaho Fish and Game crew landed a helicopter in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and put tracking collars on the wolves.
“A lot of times, especially with activities on the national forest that have a certain element of controversy to them, you play out scenarios of what might happen… This is one I hadn’t planned on,” Mark says.
Fish and Game alerted the Forest Service to the mistake. The state agency says the animals were released unharmed.
By flying a helicopter into an area designated as wilderness – for an unapproved purpose – Mark says the state violated federal law.
The Forest Service had given the state permission to land in the area, commonly known as “The Frank,” to collar 60 elk. Mark had signed off on that plan, but nothing involving wolves.
“This wasn’t any part of the proposal,” he says. “So from that standpoint, that was also a violation.”
Conservationists contend the state’s wolf operation was part of a plan to kill the animals. Environmentalists had already sued the Forest Service over allowing the state to use helicopters for the elk operation.
Forest Service officials in Ogden, Utah are involved in the agency’s investigation. The head of the Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, is, too.
To date, Mark says Fish and Game has been cooperative.
“I’ve got no reason to believe it wasn’t a mistake at this point in time,” Mark says. “It is a big deal, though.”
The federal agency is concerned over a loss of public trust as a result of the Fish and Game activity. Mark says the process to approve the elk plan included public input.
“I’ve got to try and explain – along with Fish and Game – what happened, and how we’re going to try to prevent that from ever happening again if a similar activity is authorized.”
Mark says the mistake will force the federal agency to use a “more thoughtful process and analysis” when weighing similar Fish and Game requests in the future.
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