Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Medical helicopter pilot cited for harassing wildlife

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has cited a medical helicopter pilot from Arizona for harassing wildlife after a group of hunters observed him flying his ship very low over an elk herd in a canyon near the headwaters of Granite Creek, southwest of Grand Junction.

Owen Park, 35, of Page, Ariz., a pilot for Classic Lifeguard Air Medical in Page, was assessed 10 penalty points against his hunting and fishing privileges and issued a fine of $200.00, which he has paid. A medical crew was also on board but only Park received a citation. The aircraft was not carrying a patient at the time of the incident.

On Sept. 23, Park and the ship's crew were returning to their home base in Arizona after delivering a patient to a hospital in Grand Junction. It was during the return trip that the witnesses say they observed the helicopter drop into the canyon and begin harassing the elk.

"The people that saw this told me that the pilot ruined their hunt," said Ty Smith, District Wildlife Officer in Grand Junction. "When I mentioned this to Park, he agreed that his actions may have done that."

According to the witnesses, Park flew erratically, making several passes below the rim of the canyon and at treetop level, causing several groups of elk to scatter in multiple directions. At times, it appeared Park was herding the elk, the witnesses said.

Because the witnesses were able to provide Smith with the ship's tail numbers, he was able to trace the helicopter to a company in Utah. With assistance from a Utah Wildlife Conservation officer, Smith contacted representatives of M & J Leisure L.C. of Ogden, Utah, the company that owns Classic Lifeguard Air Medical.

Company officials were cooperative with Smith, and told him that the pilot would contact him immediately. Park called Smith approximately 15 minutes later and explained that he did not feel his actions harassed the elk, but did admit that he was trying to get a better look at the herds.

Agency officials regularly receive reports of low-flying aircraft that appears to be harassing wildlife. In some cases, spotters in aircraft will assist hunters in finding their game, which is illegal.

In addition, the public is reminded that during critical, late-winter months when big game is surviving almost exclusively on fat reserves, or during calving and fawning seasons in early spring, human-caused pressure from any motorized vehicle or aircraft can lead to higher than normal mortality.

"I believe that most pilots may not realize the extent of the harm they can cause when they fly low over wildlife," continued Smith. "We remind everyone that the best way to observe wildlife is to do it from the ground, from a safe distance, and with a good pair of binoculars or a camera."

Anyone who sees suspicious activity should contact a local District Wildlife Manager, or Operation Game Thief toll-free at 877-COLO-OGT (877-265-6648). Callers contacting the tip line remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward if the information leads to a citation.


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