Idaho Fish and Game used helicopter landings to collar wolves inside the Frank Church Wilderness

A mistake?

On Jan. 13 Idaho Fish and Game landed helicopters in the deep wilderness of central Idaho (Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness). There they radio collared a number of elk and also four deep wilderness wolves.

Idaho’s wildlife agency was operating under a special order from the U.S. Forest Service. Radio collaring is not a routine permitted use in a Wilderness area. The Forest Service had to do an environmental analysis first. Opponents of the action, including Western Watersheds Project and EarthJustice immediately sued. Idaho Fish and Game carried out their operation so quickly that the court was left in the dust (nonetheless the case continues). The real shock, however, was the unexpected radio collaring of wolves in addition to elk. This was not part of the permit, and the supervisor of the Challis-Salmon National Forest was not pleased. Supervisor Chuck Mark said that to him it was “unbelievable.” According to Boise State public radio Mark said, “A lot of times, especially with activities on the national forest that have a certain element of controversy to them, you play out scenarios of what might happen…. This is one I hadn’t planned on.”

For many, it is especially hard to believe it was a mistake because ID Fish & Game really wants to collar wolves. They haven’t wanted a natural number of wolves, even inside a pristine wilderness where nature’s forces are supposed to proceed unimpeded.  The problem is not the mere presence of a collar on these otherwise wild animals. Much more important is that the signals can make each animal a “Judas wolf.” Such can be used to track down the pack and kill them. Two winters ago, ID Fish & Game sent a trapper deep in the Wilderness just to kill off a pack because it was thought they ate more elk than the agency preferred. As a result, wilderness and native wildlife partisans are now fearful. See the news release below.
– – – –

News Release. Jan. 13

Pocatello, ID— Today the Idaho Fish & Game Department admitted that it broke an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service and used helicopter landings to collar wolves in the Frank Church River Of No Return Wilderness. This follows less than a week after Earthjustice filed a legal challenge to the state’s plans to conduct over 120 helicopter landings as part of a program to manipulate wildlife populations in the wilderness.

The following is a statement from Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso on behalf of Wilderness Watch, Friends of the Clearwater, and Western Watersheds Project:

“The Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s admission today is egregious and adds insult to injury.  Though Idaho claimed it needed authorization for 5-10 days of helicopter landings between January and the end of March for this helicopter elk-collaring project, it rushed to complete its operations in the first three days after the Forest Service issued a permit, before the court could even consider whether that action is legal.  Now we learn that the state compounded its degradation of wilderness character by taking action that even the Forest Service did not authorize – collaring wild wolves in the wilderness in addition to 60 elk.

Idaho has made its intentions with respect to the wilderness wolf population abundantly clear:  Idaho has a plan in place that calls for killing 60 percent of the wolf population in the Middle Fork area of the wilderness to artificially inflate elk numbers to benefit a small number of commercial outfitters and recreational hunters.  Idaho is not pursuing that program this winter only because we challenged this activity in court, but we have no guarantees as to subsequent winters.  There is every reason to believe that these new wolf collars will be used by a state trapper to locate wolves for the purpose of killing them in pursuit of a program to manipulate wildlife populations that is fundamentally at odds with the concept of wilderness.

As the federal steward of the River of No Return, the Forest Service has a clear duty to protect the wilderness from degradation caused by unjustified helicopter intrusions and from IDFG’s illegal wolf collaring.  The Forest Service must not sit idly by while IDFG flouts its authority and the mandates of the Wilderness Act.

We intend to bring the Forest Service and Idaho’s actions before the federal court to ensure there are no more unjustified helicopter intrusions in one of the premiere wilderness areas in the United States.  Our view is simple:  The River of No Return country is a wilderness, not an elk farm, and we intend to restore the rule of law to the management of this premiere wild landscape that belongs to all of the American people.”






  1. Connie Avatar

    Is Idaho F&G so naïve as to think people won’t see through their “mistake” excuse? Their action was almost predictable.

  2. Larry Avatar

    I assume noted court action will include an injunction at least that IDFG or anyone directed by them be forbidden to monitor the frequencies of the unlawful collars. Court ordered removal of collars may be necessary but would be an added stress to the packs. May be best answer in the long run at this point.

  3. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Every year this department has a new ruse for going after the wilderness wolves. Last year they just went in and killed them without notifying anyone? This year is was the ‘mistake’, which TC explained rather well how a mistake could not happen. I don’t see how not monitoring the collars could be enforced – sadly, the only answer may be a court order to go in and remove the collars.

    ‘Idaho is a prime example of why individual states should never be allowed to manage wildlife, especially the more ‘controversial’, because they are incapable of rationality, and too influenced by special interests, and it appears, orders from on low.

    I hope they are cornered this time, and this is the last excuse they can try. I should say they get creativity points, but I won’t give them that much credit. They should be ashamed to call themselves wildlife managers.

  4. rork Avatar

    “inside a pristine wilderness where nature’s forces are supposed to proceed unimpeded” is not perfectly true. Hunting is permitted in most Wilderness I’ve visited, and that means the state, through manipulation of game regulations (or worse), can try to alter population densities. Private groups were even subsidizing wolf hunters/trappers, right? Normally you’d hope the state goes along with wilderness values, cause people like to visit there, but the money from hunting in the Frank, though small, might be more than from other activities, at least away from the river.
    I don’t have workable solutions. One problem is that people make money off the wilderness by guiding in there. I’d love for that to stop but it won’t. I’d like it if the trail system kept getting worse, cause it’s harder on the other people – that might happen. I would love it if we bought out the places where planes can land – we could still let a few legitimate scientists fly in.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      +10 Rork

      “I don’t have workable solutions. One problem is that people make money off the wilderness by guiding in there. I’d love for that to stop but it won’t. I’d like it if the trail system kept getting worse, cause it’s harder on the other people – that might happen.

      ***I would love it if we bought out the places where planes can land – we could still let a few legitimate scientists fly in”

  5. Bob Wagenknecht Avatar
    Bob Wagenknecht

    If Chuck Mark is really as PO’d about this obvious betrayal and double cross as he claims to be, maybe he (and all other forest supervisors in the state) ought to refuse to co-operate with that outlaw agency and deny them any future exceptions to the letter of the Wilderness Act, period.

    1. Kathleen Avatar

      This right here is the crux of the matter. The state is being *allowed* to manipulate the earth and its community of life–it’s trammeling the wilderness and making it less natural with helicopter landings and collar installations. Wildernesses are supposed to be untrammeled and natural. What does the forest supervisor not get about that?

  6. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    The collaring of four wolves should not be condoned, but unless you do nothing everyday, you will never make a mistake. I presume IDFG self-reported the mistake and the agency operations chief is taking full responsibility. The agency collared, not shot the wolves so let’s keep it in perspective.

    It will be interesting to see if the USFS will be letting IDFG land helicopters in the Frank Church in the future if the court rules in IDFGs’ favor.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      “…Collared, not shot the wolves so let’s keep it in perspective”.
      Gary, with respect, the collaring is no big problem, unless collared wolves were targeted for use as “judas wolves”, which would be a big deal.

      On another note, oh it was just a mistake. Uh just like I thought it was a coyote, but different. Agencies, no matter how fubar they might be, don’t make that type of “mistake”. The order was given and someone either blew the whistle, or got caught.

    2. Yvette Avatar

      No one, and especially professional wildlife managers, mistakenly collar four wolves.

      To say it was a mistake is an outright lie on their part. It’s so preposterous that I bet they don’t expect people to believe them. They know that in their part of the world everyone knows it’s a lie but they are cheering them on.

    3. WM Avatar

      I might suggest some of you folks who seem so certain as to whether this was a calculated strategic move rather than a mis-communication mistake have never run field crews, or had subordinates who have been given unclear mission statements and screw things up.

      You might also consider that if it were a calculated strategic decision that could be done only once, that the credibility issue for the agency would have been considered, and if an egregious act in defiance of the current litigation, do consider that the judge on plaintiffs’ amended complaint (and there is likely to be one or some sort of motion, there will be additional discovery/depositions and maybe even court testimony by the IDFG employees involved.

      The more that comes out about the issuance of the special use permit and maybe written or verbal dialog between USFS and IDFG the more I have to give stronger credence to the embarrassing “mistake” argument. Judges have enough people lie to them that they can get pretty good at telling who is telling the truth, partial truth and lies.

      And, as for undoing what has been unjustly done to wolves in wilderness, that would likely involve more of those “disgusting” aerial flights by helicopter into designated wilderness and the “trauma” to the subject wolves.

      On the other hand if helos can be used sparingly in designated wilderness for short discrete time periods for very specific tactical wildlife management (as has been done for decades), maybe it’s not such a big deal.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        “I might suggest some of you folks who seem so certain as to whether this was a calculated strategic move rather than a mis-communication mistake have never run field crews, or had subordinates who have been given unclear mission statements and screw things up”

        BUT, fact is, we’re talking about Idaho, WM. A state that can’t seem to muster up enough funds to support the education of it’s children and a host of other concerns but, the powers to be, have nooo problem, allotting the funds to shoot wolves.

        Recall it was around $400 grand?

        Why do I get the feeling that ole Butch Otter has little to concern himself theses days, other than wolves?”

        1. WM Avatar


          I don’t see a senior professional in IDFG “taking a hit for the team” with the possibility of doing time in a federal pen just to collar a couple wolves. Somebody would have had to make the decision, if it wasn’t a mistake.

          On the other hand, if Butch really wanted to grandstand he could have told IDFG to just do it, and stood behind them visibly and with his own version of righteous conviction/indignation, or even call it civil disobedience. Sort of like what WA and CO (and even OR) have done to the federal government in enacting their own marijuana laws while giving the feds the middle finger salute.

          And, yet even another alternative is a crew used to collaring wolves on a regular basis was called in do some work in wilderness similar to what they had been doing, and the crew went rogue.

          I still think it’s no big deal either way, with this big gray area of state jurisdiction and responsibilities for managing wildlife in designated wilderness, and the very long and apparently broad history of using helicopters in many designated wilderness areas in both the national forest system and Interior lands. I wonder if the FS/NPS/USFWS/BLM have done a comprehensive inventory of how many helicopter intrusions have been made in designated wilderness since 1964 – hundreds, even thousands?

          1. Louise Kane Avatar
            Louise Kane

            no big deal?

        2. Louise Kane Avatar
          Louise Kane

          why do I suspect they may have killed many of the wolves that were previously collared. Without those collared wolves how would they find the next packs to slaughter?

          On another note, the world is ending!
          I just watched S Palin at her sycophantic best in a display of over the top stumping for the Donald. The Donald, in the world’s worst combover, looking every bit the buffoon that the English Parliament dubbed him. Maybe she can run for VP again.

          Two freaks preaching to the discontent and disillusioned, dangerous really if you think about how well that strategy has worked against all odds in the past.

          1. Yvette Avatar

            Louise, the two of them are coming to my city in this deep red state where they are worshiped and idolized. Of course, OK is 48th in education. Thank God for Mississippi! It might be fun to put on a hijab and show up at the ugly one’s stump speech.

            On the four wolves that were mistakenly collared: WM, I read your comment right before I left the office so it gave me a chuckle on my commute. I smiled because I thought, ‘man, I hadn’t thought of that angle, but I suppose there could have been a huge miscommunication between those who gave the directions on what to collar. It’s possible they gave the directions, ‘collar four wolves when they should have said, collar elk’. Highly unlikely, but possible. It’s possible I could hit the jackpot on the lottery, too. My next thought was, ‘dang, is WM a defense attorney? Reasonable doubt? The problem is it is a long stretch to make that kind of mistake. Here is why I think it was calculated:

            What is the price of a radio collar for a wolf? What about for an elk?

            1. Someone has to order and pay for the wolf radio collars, which aren’t the same as the collars for elk. Even if there were four errant wolf collars lying around, they would have to go through some sort of accounting/inventory system. Therefore, their QA system sucks.

            2. The sedation drugs used for elk are not the same used for wolves (someone on this blog stated so and I believe them). Therefore, the field crew prepared the sedation drugs for wolves, not elk. Who is in charge of dispensing the medication? Yet one more failure with their QA. Strike #2.

            3. This happened in the Frank Church Wilderness, correct? How far back in the wilderness did this take place? How did they get there? And the story is they went in to collar elk but mistakenly collared four wolves? I can’t say I know everything involved with setting up a field operation to the Frank Church Wilderness area to collar wildlife but if I were preparing for court I’d darned sure get my t’s crossed before I went to court.

            While I appreciate your angle, WM, but it makes me laugh because it’s so far fetched. Plus, with it being IDFG, everything that has to do with wolves and IDFG is suspect.

            1. WM Avatar

              I don’t know about the far-fetched or not. A half dozen wolf collars and a few tranqualizer darts of the required type. Maybe a banana box full of stuff in hammock on the helo. Maybe a dedicated crew keeps this stuff on board most the time (unless the drugs might freeze in which case maybe there is an insulated box that goes from somebody’s office/frig to the truck then into the helo that carries the drugs for both species).

              I am defending no one, just suggesting there are possibilities without offering probabilities that one alternative might be more likely than another. Some of you already know “the facts” with a high level of probability. Not unusual on this forum.

              Larry Thorngren already knows the facts (maybe); skyrim has an FAA violation pinned down (again maybe). Nobody knows for sure- does the FAA give a rat’s backside if the flight is for wolves or elk, as long as the helo is authorized? Is it even relevant if the helo pilot is entitled to justifiably rely on what appears to be an authorization from a state agency or supervisor, and would be justified in taking the flight? Is the pilot complicit if he/she doesn’t check the paperwork from the FS?

              1. Ida Lupines Avatar
                Ida Lupines

                Bottom line – if it had been an isolated incident, maybe people would be more tolerant. As it is, it is just one in an escalating series of bad management of a ‘controversial predator’. No one is buying it any longer.

                The person in the Dept. who claims responsibility? We need a little more than that. That’s like the BLM selling horses to slaughter and turning around and saying ‘we’ll try to do a better job next time’. Terribly offensive to the citizens they supposedly serve, not just ranching and hunting interests.

                1. Ida Lupines Avatar
                  Ida Lupines

                  should read: ‘just one more in an escalating series of bad management decisions geared towards hunting and ranching interests’.

              2. JW Avatar

                As someone who works with on these types of projects (different area, different agency) I could see a mistake happening. A plausible scenario is that the project plan was cut and paste from a previous project and the person doing said C+P did not edit it all that well and left the part about the wolves. And as for an FAA vioalation, there wouldn’t be one. The FAA would have very little to do with a specific project like this.

      2. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue

        No permission to radio collar wolves, only elk. Four wolves get collared. Wolves, elk? Well, I guess they’re both mammals.

      3. JEFF E Avatar
        JEFF E

        “TC says:
        January 13, 2016 at 7:09 pm
        They generally need different collars for elk and wolves, and while both can be captured by netgunning, to handle wolves you need drugs (not necessarily so for elk, depending on what you need to accomplish). The drugs commonly used to immobilize wolves are not the drugs you would use on elk. The different collars and different drugs are expensive, take time to order/acquire, and would need to be in hand. That takes planning and suggests forethought. Plus – I have never, ever, heard of a capture team catching a species that was not explicitly requested in necessary permits and contracts. Draw your own conclusions.”

        Draw your own conclusions

  7. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Well, I hope these spectacularly busy bees plan on ‘undoing’ their mistake. Does anyone know if they plan on undoing it. Somehow I don’t think they will.

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      Sorry just doesn’t cut it.

  8. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Someone turned them in. IDFG obviously thought they could get away with collaring the wolves. They did the same thing when they had the trapper go in and kill the wolves. They were turned in by a photographer who saw the trapper.
    Without his reporting, we would have never heard about the wolves being killed.
    Pee Ons don’t suddenly decide to collar wolves. This has to come from higher up the food chain. I would suggest that the IDFG director made this call and got caught.

    1. Yvette Avatar

      “Pee Ons don’t suddenly decide to collar wolves. This has to come from higher up the food chain. I would suggest that the IDFG director made this call and got caught.”

      ++++ Larry Thorngren

    2. skyrim Avatar

      It seems to me that the pilot could face actions separate from what appears here.
      FAA Licensing Actions “If you violate the terms of the permission (for example: airman licensing and aircraft registration and maintenance, flight planning and clearances, use of open airspace and respect for restricted airspace, following procedures and operating safely), you may be ordered, or forced, to land and penalties may include fines, seizure of the aircraft, and criminal prosecution.”
      I think someone needs to force an action on this pilots ticket.
      “My boss told me to” doesn’t seem to get it in this case.

      1. Immer Treue Avatar

        I vas only following orders!

  9. MAD Avatar

    Ok, WM, as someone who has trapped, tranquilized and collared wolves, I’ll tell you – there is no way in the world that a wildlife professional could make the “mistake” or misunderstand the directions to collar canids rather than ungulates (or in addition to).

    With wolves, the common 2 drug cocktail for tranquilization is ketamine mixed with either xylazine, midazolam or 1 or 2 other drugs. Honestly, I’ve worked with ungulates but never tranquilized them, so I don’t know what drug cocktails they use. But the amounts and ratios will be vastly different due to the size and type of animal.

    Additionally, the old VHF telemetry collars were pricey to begin with, and you had to go out in the field with the stupid hand-held antenna and find the animal. GPS collars are usually a few thousand dollars per unit, so please, spare me the malarkey about mistakes. Putting >$10,000 worth of equipment out in the field could never be by accident. I understand your desire to play the contrarian here most times, but IDFG got caught, plain & simple.

    And I have some insight into their MO, since my wife is a wildlife biologist that works for them (IDFG).

    1. WM Avatar


      Facts are good, as well as knowledgeable perspective. I just said that looking at the range of possibilities is important. The FS doesn’t seem too interested, it would appear. Maybe Judge Winmill is, and the facts of the incident will be revealed, maybe with a legal conclusion that this was “no mistake.”

      And, maybe IDFG will say, “Does it really make a difference what species we were collaring? The same aerial helo methods are used. We have a legal right under the Wilderness Act to exercise our responsibilities and jusrisdiction over wildlife in designated Wilderness.”

      I see states being evermore defiant of federal oversight everyday. Like my state of WA (and CO, AK and OR) that gave the federal government the finger and enacted recreational marijuana laws in direct violation of federal statute.

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue

        As I and others have put forth on the collaring mistake, in all probability they either got caught, or somebody blew the whistle…

        With respect, you bring up the marijuana issue again as an example of states shoving aside federal statutes. It’s an apples and oranges thing in regard to the collaring issue. How many have been fined or incarcerated for pot? Legalize and tax the hell out of it. The uses of hemp far far out way the negative aspects if it is fully utilized, though I wonder if the timber, pharmaceutical, and cotton industries might feel the same way.

        1. WM Avatar


          We should hope the facts come to light on this and much of the conjecture will go away.

          Ketamine is also anesthesia which has a long history of use on livestock, especially horses, but Larry was quick to immediately go to the date rape application.

          1. Jay Avatar

            I wonder if IDFG is using the ketamine to kidnap children and sell them on the black market?

      2. rork Avatar

        WM: “We have a legal right under the Wilderness Act to exercise our responsibilities and jusrisdiction over wildlife in designated Wilderness.”
        Would that be saying they don’t actually need permits to fly in? Cause otherwise the answer to the first question about species mattering is that, yes, it does matter. Maybe they will determine they need to cut timber in there next.
        I think we are being too nice to IDGF even letting them collar, perhaps cause there’s worry they’ll throw a hissy about those federal wolves.

        1. WM Avatar

          Nobody said anything about NOT needing permits. It is part of cooperative federalism and the needed bureaucratic process of doing activities on federal lands. The interesting thing would be if the FS or a federal trial court says NO.

          Then Congress gets involved, and we know how that can end sometimes!

        2. WM Avatar


          Cutting timber in wilderness is a strictly prohibited activity.

          Research and even lethal control of predators or harvest of wildlife under purview of a state wildlife agency per the “responsibilities and jurisdiction”language of the Wilderness Act arguably is a reserved right of the state in each designated wilderness. It may just be a matter of methods used. The Nez Perce collared wolves in the FCW previously.

          1. rork Avatar

            I was being facetious about the trees, sorry. You are weaseling out of the important problem in your hypothetical stuff about the species not mattering – that argument would be baloney was my point.

    2. Gary Humbard Avatar
      Gary Humbard

      Thank you MAD for the information as it helps me understand how an agency like IDFG can at times make unwise decisions. I try to stay clear of rhetoric, generalizations and opinions and I hope you continue to shed light on this website with factual information.

    3. Larry Avatar

      Keep it coming, very informative. Supervisors will learn they cannot order integrity out of subordinates. Hear, hear.

    4. Larry Thorngren Avatar

      Ketamine is also known as “Special K” the date rape drug. I would be concerned that an agency such as IDFG that is so quick to break wilderness laws might have some employees that might find some other uses for Ketamine.

      1. rork Avatar

        I object to stooping so low.

        1. Outdoorfunnut Avatar

          The sad thing is, rork …. I don’t know if your saying that with tongue in cheek or not. The difference between a legitimate wildlife site and a hate site is the tolerance of comments like Larry’s and Jay’s. If yours was sincere, I tip my hat to you. If not, it speaks for all on this site.

          1. Jay Avatar

            I guess you don’t recognize sarcasm, as obvious as it would seem to most people, with respect to my comment about larry’s comment.

            1. Outdoorfunnut Avatar

              Your intellectual incite on what is expectable sarcasm is a reflection on all Jay. My comment wasn’t about sarcasm. It’s about the reaction to your sarcasm. My case rests.

              1. Jay Avatar

                Case rested and duly noted. Court is adjourned.

          2. skyrim Avatar


  10. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    Is there any information available about just where in the FCW these incidents occurred?

    How many landings were needed to collar the 60 elk in the project?

    Were the elk and wolf collaring landings in close proximity to each other?


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan