WOLVES AND WILDERNESS: A SURPRISINGLY GOOD ENDING!
Chapter 1. The bad and nutty!
Early in December, with a “quiet” comment period running through the holidays, the Intermountain Region (Ogden) of the Forest Service released a Scoping Notice, “Motorized Use Authorization to Support Idaho Fish and Game Wolf Collaring Scoping Notice, 12-4-05.”
The purpose was stated, on the one hand, to use helicopters to land in designated wilderness, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, to dart and radio collar sixteen gray wolves. This would likely require at least three landings up to thirty minutes each and was deemed essential to “support Idaho’s wolf recovery plan by providing information on wolf demographics/behavior, movement patterns, and activity sites within the wilderness.”
The spin on this proposal was disconcerting. A few sentences later, in some sort of thinly veiled rationale, the Scoping Notice stated, “the darting effort will be incidental to big game surveys” and that it is possible that no wolves will be seen or darted and thus no helicopter landings, making the whole effort a complete distortion of the “required” purpose to support Idaho’s wolf recovery program.
Furthermore, the Scoping Notice stated the Forest Service has a goal for “managing the wilderness and maintaining a naturally operating ecosystem.” Well, if it does, then it seems rather obvious that landing helicopters to dart and collar (tame) wolves in the premier continental wilderness is counterproductive to that goal. The amount of time the landings take is irrelevant to the context of the highly trammeled proposal of landing helicopters, darting wild wolves and then collaring them to assure they can be found, spotted and identified at any time. This is not suggestive of a “naturally operating system.”
Two simple questions exist with respect to established Forest Service wilderness management policy: 1-Does this help the FCRONRW maintain its wilderness values/ characteristics? 2-Is this proposal needed to maintain the wilderness values/ characteristics of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness?
With respect to wolves, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, significant issues also exist. The Scoping Notice suggests this collaring proposal is necessary to “maintain minimum counts for the requirements under the Endangered Species Act.” That merits a clear explanation of how this meets the Endangered Species Act requirements. None was offered in the Scoping Notice.
Is there some actual Endangered Species management concern that exists with respect to this legally identified threatened species that is missing right now, and will be aided by this collaring proposal? None was offered in the Scoping Notice.
The proposal was as disingenuous as any I’ve seen in the 29 years I’ve worked on conservation issues. It epitomizes a Forest Service that has lost its conservation reference, spends more time trying to spin a story than practice conservation, and either cares less about wilderness or simply doesn’t understand the content/context of wilderness.
The only rationale for this proposal is the acquiescence to Idaho Fish and Game under the cover of a partnership to protect wolves. A healthy relationship between the Region and the associated states is notable and important, but only if the Forest Service is not sacrificing clear conservation policies and goals to satisfy state concerns.
This entire process should have been rejected without further analysis. It does not meet either the context of wilderness management or protection of a formally identified threatened species under the guidance of the Endangered Species Act. The length of impact is not the measure of the intensity of impacts; it is whether or not, even for a short time, the proposal counters the foundation of wilderness.
Areas protected and administered under the Wilderness Act are different in content and context than all other National Forest administered lands. This is the primary focus of the Wilderness Act. It is not to be managed with the same reference points or mindset as non-wilderness lands.
Chapter 2. The good and hopeful!
Hundreds of comments were received on this proposal, largely due to an alert by Wilderness Watch of Missoula. To the credit of the Intermountain Region, the proposal was indefinitely postponed!