The federal district court in Idaho has ruled against the state’s use of helicopters to collar elk in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. In Wilderness Watch v. Vilsack it held that the Forest Service failed to consider the cumulative impacts of a one-year proposal when it knew the state intended this to be part of at least a ten-year program. It found that the decision to not prepare an EIS violated NEPA.
The court also found that the Forest Service violated the Wilderness Act. In 2010, the court had approved use of helicopters to collar wolves because its purpose of “understanding the wolf” furthered wilderness values. However, the judge warned that, because of cumulative impacts (and probably because of some skepticism about the state’s motives), “the next project will be extraordinary difficult to justify,” and that the Forest Service would need to give sufficient notice to allow opponents to “fully litigate” such projects.
The Forest Service issued a special use permit in January 2016, and within two days the elk collaring was completed, along with four wolves not authorized by the permit. The court rejected state arguments that it didn’t need permission, and held that the Forest Service failed to make a proper determination that the helicopters and collaring were necessary for wilderness management because it considered only “a one-year portion of a much larger long-term plan.”
The relief granted by the court is noteworthy:
- Injunction preventing the Forest Service from considering any of the data gathered from the elk and wolves as a result of this project
- Injunction preventing the Forest Service from approving any future helicopter projects without delaying implementation for 90-days to allow affected groups to file challenges to the projects
- Inunction preventing the state from using any of this data in further proposals seeking approval from the Forest Service
- Mandatory injunction ordering the state to destroy the data received on the elk and wolves collared in this project
How do you suppose the Forest Service rewards this kind of decision-making?