More Groups Join & Motions Filed in Frank Church Wilderness/Helicopter Landing Litigation

“Wilderness Wolf Watchers” Act to Protect Wolves & Wilderness

On Patrol Ridge. Frank Church Wilderness. Salmon River Mtns © Ralph Maughan

The Wolf Recovery Foundation and Western Watersheds Project recently filed suit to end the Idaho Department of Fish & Game’s (IDF&G) attempt to use helicopters to chase, capture, and collar wolves in the Frank Church-River-Of-No-Return Wilderness.  The suit also seeks to shut down Wildlife Service’s wolf killing operations in the state of Idaho, and halt grazing in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area as it conflicts with wildlife, particularly predators including wolves.

More groups sue over wilderness helicopter useAP

Now, a number of additional conservation groups are jumping on to challenge the Frank Church/wolf/helicopter-landing part of the lawsuit including:

Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Winter Wildlands Alliance
Wilderness Watch
Idaho Conservation League
The Wilderness Society

I hope you’ll take a look at the motion and brief filed yesterday :

Read the Opening Injuction Brief
Read the Injunction Motion

Should the IDF&G be allowed to harass, land, and collar wolves with helicopters, many prominent conservationists’ wilderness/wildlife-watching experiences will be harmed as they plan to recreate and take solitude within the lower 48-state’s largest Wilderness area this coming season.

I hope you’ll take the time to read the declarations of former wolf & Wilderness managers, Wolf Recovery Foundation & WWP board, staff, and members whose powerful experiences with wolves and the Frank Church wilderness is an inspiration:

Former USFS Wilderness Manager : Thomas Kovalicky Declaration

Former USFWS Wolf Recovery Coordinator : Roy Heberger Declaration

Wildlife Biologist : James Peek Declaration

Wolf Recovery President & WWP Board Member: Ralph Maughan Declaration

WWP Board President: Kelley Weston Declaration

WWP Data Specialist:  Dale Grooms Declaration

WWP NEPA Coordinator:  Kenneth Cole Declaration

The oral arguments on this motion will be held in front of Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill on February 18, 2010 in Boise, Idaho.




  1. Virginia Avatar

    I hope it is all right to post a “thank-you” to Brian for this article and to Ralph and Ken for your fine declarations. I truly think you have a great case against this lazy attempt to be able to disturb the wilderness and the animals in order to be able to collar wolves for questionable purposes. I particularly appreciated Ken’s declaration #43. You did a good job!

  2. Ellen DVM Avatar
    Ellen DVM

    Thanks to all for their efforts in this case. I would be curious (and confess that I haven’t researched this any further than reading this blog) what IDF&G is thinking they’ll get from these procedures. Given their history, I can’t help but suspect ulterior motives, but I’d like to know if there are any good reasons to do this.

  3. Ron Kearns Avatar
    Ron Kearns

    Looks like others and I will have an abundance of legal briefs, motions, and declarations reading to do.

    Thanks to all for submitting this injunction, although many of us would prefer legal actions only as the last resort; however, that last resort threshold seems to be the case here.

  4. Rita K.Sharpe Avatar
    Rita K.Sharpe

    Thanks to all.

  5. Brian Ertz Avatar


    the IDFG has submitted a “management plan” to the US Fish & Wildlife Service that promises to maintain wolf numbers at 100 wolves in the state of Idaho to keep wolves off of the Endangered Species list post delisting (USFWS can trigger a prompt relisting for 5 years post-delisting with a lot less red tape than to reinitiate full listing after this initial period should wolf numbers plummet).

    By collaring wolves in wilderness, IDFG will be able to demonstrate that baseline number of wolves (within in wilderness) to prevent relisting while concurrently taking very aggressive management action to depress wolf population numbers outside of wilderness areas.

    In effect, wolves will be largely relegated to wilderness areas, and recovery will largely be undermined on public lands that don’t enjoy wilderness designation ~ at least, they’ll be aggressively “MANaged” everywhere else without fear of protective federal intervention.

  6. mikarooni Avatar

    According to a growing amount of research, 100 wolves won’t provide anywhere close to enough genetic bandwidth to sustain the species, even in a small regional population over the long run.

  7. Talks with Bears Avatar
    Talks with Bears

    mikarooni – in your opinion/research what number of wolves will provide “enough genetic bandwith to sustain the species”?

  8. Layton Avatar


    You said’

    “the IDFG has submitted a “management plan” to the US Fish & Wildlife Service that promises to maintain wolf numbers at 100 wolves in the state of Idaho to keep wolves off of the Endangered Species list post delisting

    But the report from the

    FISCAL YEAR 2009″

    This report summarizes Idaho Wildlife Services’ (WS) responses to reported gray wolf depredations and other wolf-related activities conducted during Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 (October 1, 2008 – September 30, 2009) pursuant to Permit No. TE-081376-12, issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) June 16, 2006. This permit allows WS to implement control actions for wolves suspected to be involved in livestock depredations and to capture non-depredating wolves for collaring and re-collaring with radio transmitters as part of ongoing wolf monitoring and management efforts.”


    “The Idaho Fish and Game Commission has recommended managing Idaho’s wolf population at a biologically sustainable level of about 500 animals, rather than the current 800-900 level in Idaho.”

    And then:

    “A combination of much more aggressive depredation control actions and liberal public hunting and trapping seasons will likely be needed to realistically achieve the Idaho Fish and Game Commission goal of managing for a population of around 500 wolves.”

    So are you saying that the Idaho Wildlife Services has a disconnect from the US Fish and Wildlife Service – that issued the permit to the Idaho org -?? Or are you saying that you think they (the Idaho WS) are lying??

  9. Ellen DVM Avatar
    Ellen DVM

    Thanks for the very clear and concise explanation.

  10. Si'vet Avatar

    Ken,according to the article they recommend 5000 animals. So counting Canada there is 47,000 gray wolves that are genetically the same, 42, 000 more than need to sustain the species.

  11. Si'vet Avatar


  12. Talks with Bears Avatar
    Talks with Bears

    Ken – if the powers that be decide to use that model referenced in your link the Northern Rockies are going to all wolves and no elk, deer or livestock – that should make a splash.

  13. Talks with Bears Avatar
    Talks with Bears

    Ken – let me guess, in some circles the 5,000 number should be divided into certain biodiverse areas say like – the flathead, the breaks, yellowstone country, the beaverhead. Next thing you know Montana will need to have 20,000 wolves just to make sure they can avoid extinction. Ken, I think you are pro wolf – you might not want to share that link – if that info gets out there you guys are sunk. That is waaay out there.

  14. JB Avatar

    Funny that it always seems to come back to numbers? People are capable of looking at these numbers and “seeing” very different things.

    For example: A habitat model out of Utah State estimated that the state could support more than 700 wolves, mostly in the north (which presumably could be counted toward a DPS-wide total). Of course, Utah’s plan says 2 breeding pairs and their legislature says none.

    Also, I don’t know how many wolves Canada has, but I’m willing to take Si’vet at his word. If Canada has more than 40,000 wolves why aren’t more people asking why we in the states have so few?

    Finally, a point of clarification. The ESA differs from previous legislation in that it calls for the protection of species when they become endangered in a significant portion of their range; that is, we don’t have to wait for the entire species to be imperiled. Wolves once ranged throughout the conterminous U.S., but at the time of listing the only viable population was in northern Minnesota. Even today we have some 3,000-4,000 wolves in upper MN, WI, and MI and some 1,650 in ID, MT, and WY.

    Is this a meaningful recovery? In my opinion, it is. Is it adequate to satisfy the ESA? Probably not. I guess we’ll see…

  15. JB Avatar

    By the way, that’s a beautiful shot, Ralph!

  16. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks JB.

    It was taken 2 days backpack from the nearest road. In my mind, the most important part was the solitude and the effort it required to reach the area.

    Today I’m too old to backpack that far, climbing that much. Although I am very happy to get into the Wilderness at all. That’s a big reason why I don’t want to see machines, namely helicopters, buzzing low over the ground chasing animals there for any reason. It not only affects any person present there who took the effort, it devalues past efforts. My view is not alone. It is a common view, written about by many authors.

    I had hoped this argument could have made it into the legal brief, but I was told that accurate though it might be for me and others who have got to places the hard way, the courts were less likely to recognize it as a real impact of Idaho, Fish and Game’s plans to go after the wolves in the fashion they plan.

  17. Roy Avatar


    If Canada has 40,000 wolves, which I will presume is correct, does anyone know how many Caribou, Moose, Elk, Deer, Canada estimates they have ?

    Roy M. Halverson

  18. Brian Ertz Avatar


    I guess I’m saying there are a lot of numbers thrown out there about Isaho’s commitment to a “baseline”, depending on which management plan, IDFG or legislative resolution, etc. That obscurity/discrepancy/inconsistency is sorta part of the problem, especially when talking about a wildlife species that fosters such controversy.

    One thing’s fer sure ~ Idaho is committed to managing for the baseline number, whatever it is ~ and that means a depression in numbers from the current population.

    That’s misMANagement, no matter how you slice it, when talking about an animal that just came off the List.

  19. Brian Ertz Avatar

    plus, i think it’s like a bad itch for the IDFG commissioners – the thought of a landscape and/or population of wildlife beyond their control.

  20. Ken Cole Avatar

    If the IDFG were to realize this plan fully they would have 19 collars in the Frank Church alone. That’s 12 collars in addition to the 6 or 7 they already have. They estimated the population to be 45-50 wolves in 7-8 packs according to the 2008 report and there were 17 killed leaving at best 33 wolves. I’m figuring that the overall population hasn’t grown in the Frank that much, or at all in recent years, because there hasn’t been the control actions taken by Wildlife Services and the Frank is probably saturated with wolves. There may be some new wolves that have moved in from adjacent areas since the hunt started but even if there are again 50 wolves in the Frank Church wilderness that means something like 38% could have collars after these operations.

    That’s pretty significant and I don’t see how the IDFG can rationally say that they need that many collars to monitor wolves in the Frank Church wilderness. If you look at the wolf population statewide they only have 15-17% of the wolves collared depending on what the population and mortality was/is. Currently they have 12-21% of the wolves collared in the wilderness based on 6 or 7 collars and a population from 33-50.

    Why do they feel the need to have so many more collars in the Frank Church Wilderness? And, why do they need to use helicopters to do it?

    I even found a passage in one of the annual reports describing how they collared some wolves in the Frank Church but they never bothered to follow up on monitoring them.

    From the 2006 wolf report:

    Several sightings in spring 2006 of wolves near a tributary of the Middle Fork Salmon River in the Frank Church Wilderness prompted IDFG program to fly in and attempt to radiocollar this suspected pack. With generous assistance by the local outfitter and his guide, ample wolf sign was located and traps were set. As a result, 2 wolves were captured and fitted with radiocollars. Unfortunately, 1 collar was later retrieved, having been chewed off by other wolves. Due to the remoteness of the location and time constraints, this group of wolves was not surveyed to determine whether pups were present. As such, this pack was not considered a breeding pair in 2006. However, due to the relatively large pack size (n = 11) observed in winter flights, reproduction in the previous year(s) was assumed with a reasonable degree of confidence, and this pack was retroactively counted for 2005.

  21. Si'vet Avatar

    I basically got the Canadian estimated numbers from a link provided on this site when we were discussing whether or not the wolves introduced were of the same genetics as the original wolves. One question I have, I know wolves had moved into the states side of Glacier, what has kept them from moving farther south on there own. There was certainly enough food for them to survive. I believe in 1990 about 50 miles SW of Bonners we watched a lone wolf walk across a remote hillside from about a mile away, but do to the terrain we couldn’t verify. Then only after the reintroduction did we see a group of wolves in the same area. What changed in those 17 yrs?

  22. Brian Ertz Avatar

    it will be interesting to see whether the Department uses population projection estimates in the Frank Church at the same rate that they do outside (in general) despite the notable disparity of wolves’ collared (substantially greater % collared in the Wilderness) as noted via ken’s comment …

  23. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I think the southward and southwestward spread of the wolves from NW Montana would have eventually repopulated much of Idaho, western Wyoming and SW Montana.

    A number of conservation groups supported just that — no reintroduction but re-population under the strict regulations of the endangered species act.

    I supported the reintroductions, the course the government choose. My reasoning was “natural” re-population was too slow, much more expensive in the long run because the ESA’s full regulations are pretty strict. Wolves migrating at random would often end up in poor locations (like maybe right next to a city with a large city edge deer population). Most important though was the NW Montana founding wolf population came from a small number of British Columbia wolves that migrated down to the Glacier NP area. Small founding populations run into genetic bottlenecks.

    Instead of an inbred population we have a wolf population today with very good genetic diversity.

  24. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Your question covers much more history than the last 17 years.
    I will try to give the Reader Digest version.
    Up until the early 70’s wolves were not protected, in fact were treated the same or maybe worse than coyotes. Also, in Canada there was an ongoing Govt. policy in the respective provinces of eradication concerning wolves and seemed to be more concentrated in the southern reaches, creating a de facto no mans land for wolves. Even at that there was a trickle of dispersers that made it south and a very few of those avoided being killed outright, but was never enough at the right time at the right place to form packs. I would guess that those wolves were eventually killed or died in some manner. Keep in mind that wolves have a relatively short life span in the wild even without management.
    Then we had the listing happen and but My belief is that in and of itself changed little or nothing regarding the few dispersers that made it south.
    Canada continued with an active govt backed eradication program up until the mid-eighties and then slowly changed positions on how wolves were managed. Shortly after that, enough wolves dispersed south to be able to form a pack in the glacier area, the Magic pack, in the late eighties.
    After that the North Fork pack formed. and then the Nine Mile pack. At the same period there were increased accounts of sightings in Yellowstone and Idaho and other places. If you have ever heard of the wolf that was shot in the Jackson Hole in the late eighties by someone who thought it was a coyote, it turned out that that wolf was actually a disperser from the Nine Mile pack North of Missoula. “I believe” that is where most of the wolves reported in central Idaho originated from with possibly one or two here and there from Canada proper. (I would be curious to have a DNA study of the wolf pelt hanging in Idaho Fish and Game building).
    Flash forward to the re-introduction and the reason why the population finally got a toe hold is that the way the wolves were released in Yellowstone was essentially as a pack and in Idaho the release was in a concentrated area where the wolves were able to find each other in addition to having what was in fact a constant escort of humans so that the wolves were actually living in a protective cocoon as they were able to establish some viable packs.
    Hope this helps.


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Brian Ertz