U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth’s contention that federal agencies are using armed agents and helicopters to invade Idaho to enforce the Endangered Species Act has agency officials scratching their heads.
“It wasn’t us,” said Rod Moxley, a special agent with the National Marine Fisheries Service, which enforces the act in the Columbia Basin.
Moxley said he had heard a rumor of armed agents in helicopters within the last year or two that later turned out to be a marijuana eradication flight. “We don’t get involved in that,” he said.
Chenoweth made her comments at a congressional subcommittee hearing on private property rights.
Paul Weyland, a special agent with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Boise, said, “I’m a federal law enforcement agent, and I’m armed all the time in my job.” But, he said, “I haven’t been in a helicopter since I’ve been here.”
The Fish & Wildlife Service devotes most of its enforcement efforts to going after commercial poaching rings that take illegally killed animals across state lines, he said.
Moxley and Weyland said their agencies have not charged or cited anyone in recent years for violating the Endangered Species Act in Idaho. Rather than arrests, Moxley said, they are focusing on educational efforts to get compliance with the act.
Eric Cawley, a spokesman for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, said when asked about the issue, “Oh, the helicopter gunships.”
Cawley said he remembered hearing the rumor while working on Attorney General Al Lance’s campaign last summer. But he knew no more about the issue than that.
Chenoweth sent out a news release this week attacking the alleged practice, which she said violates the Idaho Constitution’s ban on importing armed forces.
She said she threatened to be the “worst nightmare” for U.S. Assistant Agriculture Secretary Jim Lyons until “this type of activity ceases.”
Chenoweth was traveling to Boise Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Steve Huffaker, fisheries chief for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said, “I’m not aware of any agents, federal or state, that have done that. I know that’s been a real hot rumor around the Salmon area, but to my knowledge that’s just all it is, is a rumor.”
Merritt Tuttle, a senior policy analyst with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Portland, said enforcement officers from his agency went to Idaho last summer for public meetings designed to put the rumor to rest.
“I thought it had been resolved long ago,” he said.