Elk Ryan HagertyUSFWSIn a major victory for Wilderness and wildlife, federal Judge B. Lynn Winmill has just ruled that the Forest Service’s approval of Idaho Fish and Game’s helicopter-assisted elk-collaring project in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (FC-RONRW) was unlawful, that Idaho Fish and Game illegally collared four wolves, and that Idaho Fish and Game must destroy data gathered from the illegally placed elk and wolf collars. Rejecting the State of Idaho’s argument that it does not need Federal approval to conduct these activities in Wilderness, Judge Winmill was clear—“[t]he ‘overarching purpose’ of Congress in passing the Wilderness Act was to preserve the ‘wilderness character’ of that land[,]” and the State of Idaho “must obtain approval from the Forest Service before undertaking a project in the Wilderness Area.”

On January 7, 2016, Earthjustice, on behalf of Wilderness Watch, Friends of the Clearwater, and Western Watersheds Project, filed a complaint in federal court to stop the Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game from conducting a major helicopter-supported elk capturing and collaring project (of up to 120 helicopter landings) as part of Idaho's egregious plans to eventually kill more than half of the wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho. The FC-RONRW is the largest contiguous Wilderness in the lower 48 states.

Just days after we filed the lawsuit, Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game admitted they captured and collared wolves in the Wilderness "by mistake," a clear violation of the law and their Forest Service permit. Then in February 2016, Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game also admitted the radio collars would "assist with control actions."

Fortunately, Judge Winmill's ruling will force both the State of Idaho and the Forest Service to comply with the Wilderness Act in the future.

Read the decision.

Read a press release.

Read background information on this issue.
Read more about the issue in a Wilderness Watch article.

Photo: Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

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