In February 2015, the Forest Service’s (FS) Southwest Regional Forester has favorably responded to objections by Wilderness Watch and others to halt—at least for now—a massive helicopter invasion of Wildernesses in Arizona for an intensive management scheme for the areas’ bighorn sheep populations. In December 2014, Wilderness Watch, with Friends of Wild Animals (FOWA), Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, and SPEAK (Supporting and Promoting Ethics for the Animal Kingdom), filed a formal objection to a FS decision authorizing hundreds of helicopter landings on the Tonto National Forest. The project is one of the most offensive ever approved in a national forest Wilderness, not only because it allows an unprecedented amount of helicopter use, but also because it encourages a “game-farming" mentality that has no place in Wilderness administration and protection. Read more in a press release (PDF).
The plan, proposed by the Arizona Department of Game and Fish (AZGF), would last 10 years and involve hundreds of helicopter flights and 450 helicopter landings in five designated Wildernesses on the Tonto National Forest. This project is related to a separate ten-year proposal, with 200 more helicopter landings, to monitor and possibly place more bighorns into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness on the Coronado National Forest. The state agency would use the helicopters to capture, collar, translocate, monitor and otherwise “manage” bighorn sheep. Wilderness Watch is grateful to Arizona attorney, Cyndi Tuell, lead author on our groups’ objection.
In a letter to the conservation groups, Regional Forester Cal Joyner stated, “Based on my review, I find that the analysis presented in the EA and supporting documentation does not adequately address Forest Service responsibilities under the Wilderness Act and other guidance that requires coordination with States related to wildlife and fish management in wilderness.