GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado - Colorado Parks and Wildlife said Thursday that it cited a medical helicopter pilot from Arizona for harassing wildlife. Hunters saw the pilot flying 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 fined $200. The medical crew on board were not cited. 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 witnesses reported seeing 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. At times it appeared Park was herding the elk, the witnesses said. The hunters reported the ship's tail numbers to Smith, and he was able to trace the helicopter to a company in Utah. With assistance from a Utah Wildlife Conservation officer, Smith contacted M & J Leisure L.C. of Ogden, Utah, the company that owns Classic Lifeguard Air Medical. Company officials cooperated, and Park called Smith 15 minutes later. He said he did not feel his actions harassed the elk but did admit that he was trying to get a better look at the herds."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 the aircraft," said Smith. "For anyone who thinks this is a good idea, they should think again and consider the ethical and legal consequences of their actions."CPW regularly receives reports of low-flying aircraft that appear to be harassing wildlife. In some cases, spotters in aircraft will assist hunters in finding their game, which is illegal."I believe that most pilots may not realize the extent of the harm they can cause when they fly low over wildlife," said Smith. "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."
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