Wilderness or Game Farm?

The Forest Service and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) are conspiring to weaken the 1964 Wilderness Act. They propose to use helicopters to capture and radio-collar  exotic mountain goats which inhibit a few of the Wasatch Range wilderness areas like Lone Peak, Mount Timpanogos, Twin Peaks Wilderness Areas. In total, they will make at least  60 helicopter landings and more flights over the wilderness.

This is a direct violation of the intent and law regarding the Wilderness Act.

The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness as a landscape where “the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man” and an area “retaining its primeval character and influence… which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”

The problem is two-fold. One is that aircraft are expressly forbidden in Wilderness Areas except for emergency situations. Flying around chasing wildlife, and then man-handling them is not consistent with the intent of the Wilderness Act.

Beyond that, mountain goats are not native to the Wasatch Range and were introduced to facilitate hunting. UDWR is proposing a major violation of the intent and spirit of the Wilderness Act to perpetuate an exotic species that do not belong in these mountains in the first place.

Originally the UDWR sought to study only mountain goats. But realizing that violating the Wilderness Act to increase an exotic species like mountain goats, merely to facilitate hunting was unlikely to pass muster, they expanded it to include a study of some native bighorns.

The Wilderness Act clearly says the primary purpose is to perpetuate natural conditions. Perpetuating exotic animals merely to satisfy hunters hardly qualifies as “natural.”.

As a former hunting guide and wildlife biologist, I know there is much that can be gleaned from radio-tracking studies. On the other hand, we don’t need to do these studies in designated wilderness.

That is the reason a number of conservation groups that include Wilderness Watch, Save our Canyons, The Sierra Club, Yellowstone to Uinta Connection and Western Wildlife Conservancy have filed objections to stop the Forest Service from approving this operation.

Wilderness is to be managed to maintain wild conditions and wildlife, not to be operated as a game farm to satisfy hunting desires.



  1. Veronica Egan Avatar

    Good old UDWR is at it again. The only wildlife they approve of is that which does not prey upon or compete with livestock. And they like to muck around with those to please the hunting crowd. Sheesh!

  2. Kathleen Avatar

    “Fish and Wildlife Management on Federal Lands: Debunking State Supremacy”

    Excerpt from abstract: “Federal land management agencies have an obligation, and not just the discretion, to manage and conserve fish and wildlife on federal lands. The myth that “the states manage wildlife and federal land agencies only manage wildlife habitat” is not only wrong from a legal standpoint but it leads to fragmented approaches to wildlife conservation, unproductive battles over agency turf, and an abdication of federal responsibility over wildlife.”


  3. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    A similar thing, I was disturbed by this on the news last night:


    Why don’t they just stop hunting, period, to allow the moose to recover? No matter what threats wildlife is subject to, hunting is never curtailed, even with very low population numbers. Again, even if you were to consider it from a hunting standpoint only, the activity is self-defeating if the species’ population numbers go too low or go extinct in the future.

    Why can’t hunters wait until the wildlife recovers? Must have it now, I suppose, is the reason – we can’t seem to comprehend the future. Idiots. And we don’t have wolves to blame for the losses, so the only predators endangering New England’s moose are the human predators.

    CWD and ticks are the threats. What are the game farm promoters, er, state and Federal agencies doing about it?

  4. Gail Avatar

    Grateful to you, George, for sharing your perspective and to the agencies listed that are taking the UDWR to task. They can never be trusted.

  5. Isabel Cohen Avatar
    Isabel Cohen

    “They propose to use helicopters to capture and radio-collar exotic mountain goats which inhibit a few of the Wasatch Range wilderness areas like Lone Peak, Mount Timpanogos, Twin Peaks Wilderness Areas.” The word inhibit should be inhabit, which changes the meaning of this sentence entirely. This is outrageous behavior, but becoming typical and for some reason acceptable!


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner