Helicopters could land in wilderness to track bighorn sheep

Helicopters could land in wilderness to track bighorn sheep

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The U.S. Forest Service will consider allowing the Arizona Game and Fish Department to land helicopters in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness for the purpose of monitoring the herd of big horn sheep that were reintroduced to the area nearly a year ago.

Save an emergency situation, landing a helicopter in a national forest is considered illegal. AGFD can already hover less than 2,000 feet above the wilderness, but this current request would allow the choppers to land.

There would be an estimated 20 landings per year in order to provide easier access to the animals if there is a death in the herd or a malfunction with a tracking collar, according to the agency's report. Sandy Bahr, Director for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club said the department is underestimating the number and the length of the trips.

"They really need to look at the environmental impacts and the project overall," said Bahr.

Two landing sites are around the entrance to Sabino Canyon, according to a map of the Catalina Ranger District. Visiting Sabino Canyon for the first time Friday night, Elaine Vanderveer said she couldn't imagine a helicopter moving through the area.

"I could see that there would be disturbances for the people who like this area and they enjoy the wildlife," she said. "It would agitate the wildlife and scare them off."

Eddie Lewelling exercises at the canyon a couple times each week. He said he already sees other helicopters fly around the area for training or medical emergencies, so the additional landings shouldn't be a concern.

"As long as they stay away from where the general public's at, causing dust and a lot of noise…I don't see a problem with it at all," he said.

The initial request included other options for monitoring the sheep. It is up to the US Forest Service to give final approval.

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