As of Tuesday, January 24, 2017
A federal judge dealt an Idaho Department of Fish and Game elk research program a significant setback with a ruling last week that will require the agency to destroy data IDFG began gathering in the Frank Church Wilderness 17 months ago.
The matter had been in federal court since January 2016, when environmentalists including Friends of the Clearwater complained IDFG’s radio-collaring of elk and wolves would generate on-going helicopter traffic in the wilderness.
The Salmon-Challis National Forest issued a permit and IDFG began its helicopter operations the next day, during which the state agency collared 57 elk and four wolves. The environmentalists sued shortly thereafter.
The state and federal defendants argued the matter was moot as soon as the collaring was completed, but the judge had none of that, writing that IDFG’s “long-term plan to pursue hundreds of helicopter collaring landings in the wilderness area” leaves “no doubt that IDFG will attempt again the very same project it completed here.”
“Moreover, the duration will once again be too short for plaintiffs to challenge,” federal district chief judge Lynn Winmill wrote. “The Forest Service have ignored the court’s earlier directive to allow time for challenges, and thus the court cannot trust its assurances that sufficient time will be granted in the future.”
Winmill ordered an injunction for the data to be destroyed, writing that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wilderness Act.
The court also ordered the Forest Service to delay implementation of future projects by 90 days “to allow affected groups to file challenges to the projects.”
Idaho Fish and Game communications chief Mike Keckler issued the following statement:
“We are disappointed in this decision and are taking time to review our options. Our priority is to continue to monitor and manage the Middle Fork Salmon River elk herds, which are so important to our state.”
In a joint statement, Friends of the Clearwater and the other environmentalist plaintiffs described IDFG’s elk management plans as part of a “broader program to inflate elk numbers above natural levels within the wilderness by eliminating wolf packs that prey on the elk.”