“The people that saw this told me that the pilot ruined their hunt. When I mentioned this to Park, he agreed that his actions may have done that.”
— Ty Smith, district wildlife officer in Grand Junction, about an incident in which a helicopter pilot was cited for harassing elk.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife has cited an Arizona helicopter pilot for harassing elk near 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 a $200 fine for flying his ship Sept. 23 very low over an elk herd in a canyon near the headwaters of Granite Creek, southwest of Grand Junction.
Park has paid his fine, according to a Parks and Wildlife news release.
There was not a patient onboard at the time of the incident.
Park and the helicopter’s medical crew were returning to base in Arizona after delivering a patient to a hospital in Grand Junction when hunters witnessed the aircraft drop into the canyon and begin harassing elk.
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, according to witness reports.
At times, it looked as though Park was attempting to herd the elk, the release states.
“The people that saw this told me that the pilot ruined their hunt,” said Ty Smith, district wildlife officer in Grand Junction, in the release. “When I mentioned this to Park, he agreed that his actions may have done that.”
Witnesses were able to record the helicopter’s tail numbers, which allowed Smith to trace its owner to a company in Utah. With assistance from officers with Utah Wildlife Conservation, Smith made contact with M&J Leisure L.C. of Ogden, Utah, the company that owns Classic Lifeguard Air Medical.
Company officials were cooperative with Smith, according to the release, and within 15 minutes Park called Smith directly.
Park told Smith he did not intend to harass the elk and was just trying to get a better look at the herd.
“We understand that observing wildlife from aircraft can provide great views, but it is very harmful to wildlife and can lead to a citation, or in some cases, the confiscation of an aircraft,” Smith said in the release. “For anyone who thinks this is a good idea, they should think again, and consider the ethical and legal consequences of their actions.”
Parks and Wildlife officials regularly receive reports of low flying aircraft. In some cases spotters in aircraft will assist hunters in locating their game, which is illegal the release states.
In addition, human-caused pressure from motorized vehicles and aircraft can lead to higher than normal mortality rates, according to the release, particularly during late winter months when game are surviving almost exclusively on fat reserves and during fawning seasons in early spring.
“I believe that most pilots may not realize the extent of the harm they can cause when they fly low over wildlife,” Smith said in the release. “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.”
Members of the public who witness suspicious activity should contact their local district wildlife manager or call Operation Game Thief toll free at 877-265-6648.
Callers may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward if the information leads to a citation.