By Stan Myers
It was greatly surprising that in his lengthy and thoughtful essay on wilderness and wildlife management in Idaho, Al Van Vooren made no reference to the significant January 2017 court decision by U.S. District Court Judge Winmill (appointed in 1995 by Bill Clinton) that forced the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to destroy elk and wolf data obtained after an extensive game management project in the Frank Church Wilderness, a project that utilized helicopters that were authorized by the U.S. Forest Service. This is even more surprising because Mr. Van Vooren described that he once served as IDFG regional supervisor for an area that included a large portion of that same wilderness.
The ruling has severely threatened the IDFG ability to effectively manage wildlife in the almost 5 million acres of existing wilderness in Idaho. Besides assurances from the local wilderness advocates, the USFS and posters from Sen. Jim Risch that helicopter use and IDFG management of wildlife in wilderness are permitted, the ruling directly contradicts the Wilderness Act’s assurance that states shall not be restricted from managing wildlife in wilderness and contradicts the constitutionally guaranteed right of Idaho to manage wildlife. The ruling was the result of lawsuits by three radical environmental groups, who objected to the use of helicopter landings in the wilderness and are opposed to wildlife management affecting wolves or in wilderness.
The statements by the judge and two of the groups after the ruling are telling: Judge Winmill stated “The IDFG has collected data in violation of federal law and intends to use that data to seek approvals in the future for more helicopter landings in the Wilderness Area. … The only remedy that will directly address the ongoing harm is an order requiring destruction of the data.”
Tim Preso, attorney for Earthjustice, stated after the ruling: “Today’s decision vindicates the basic principle that a wilderness is supposed to be a wild area where, as Congress said, ‘the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man,’ not a helicopter landing zone.”
Kevin Proeschodt, Wilderness Watch conservation director, stated: “This action by the Forest Service and IDFG violated everything that makes Wilderness unique,” and, “It was an unprecedented intrusion with helicopters for the sole purpose to make wildlife populations in Wilderness conform to the desires of managers rather than accept and learn from the ebb and flow of nature.”
Mr. Van Vooren goes on to describe how a hunter who searches the IDFG online Hunt Planner for a hunting area in the Idaho Panhandle and in Wilderness will come up empty. Wow, if a person can’t figure out where large roadless areas exist in northern Idaho by simple looking at a map or asking in North 40, I am not sure that such a person should be getting out of sight of a road. Or, if someone really needs a wilderness label to hunt and our extensive USFS-classified “primitive backcountry” and administratively-managed wilderness doesn’t do it for them, I would think the 5 million acres of designated wilderness that we already have in Idaho, including the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states, gives such a narrow-minded soul plenty of choices.
The flanks of the Scotchman, like much of our national forests, are in great need of forest management, due to the poor or lack of management by the U.S. Forest Service. Wildlife habitat and forest health go hand in hand. No one is proposing to build roads in the Scotchman area, but meaningful wildlife and forest management needs the use of helicopters and the clear and absolute authority of the state to manage wildlife. There are many areas of key elk and mule deer habitat in the Scotchman area that are being used less and less by these species, due to the declining health of the forest, as they fill with dead and dying trees. It is certainly interesting how Scotchman wilderness advocates avoid addressing the Winmill ruling, the huge waste of taxpayer’s money as a result of that ruling and the efforts IDFG has been forced to go through as they try to reestablish their ability to manage wildlife in 5 million acres of the state.