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State game board maneuvers to bring back wolf control program

Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2006

ANCHORAGE - The state Board of Game rewrote its aerial wolf hunting regulations Wednesday in a move to revive a program deemed illegal by a judge last week.

Hunters could be back in the air before the weekend if Lt. Gov. Loren Leman approves the revised guidelines Thursday, said Board of Game Chairman Mike Fleagle.

"We anticipate the plaintiffs will try to stop the program, but for now it will go back online," Fleagle said.

Friends of Animals, a Darien, Conn.-based animal rights group, has led the fight against the wolf-killing program, which is intended to boost moose and caribou populations in five areas of the state. The program got its start in 2003 in the McGrath area of the Interior where residents had long complained predators were killing too many moose, leaving them with too few for food.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled in favor of the animal rights group, saying the game board failed to provide required justification for the program. She also said the board did not explain why alternative means for reducing the number of wolves would not work.

The board also gave no explanation for how it set the wolf reduction levels - ranging from 40 to 90 percent - in the different areas, Gleason said.

The board gathered on Wednesday at what it called an emergency meeting, where members voted unanimously to scrap the existing rules for its five aerial wolf control areas and insert new language in response to Gleason's ruling.

Giving a meeting emergency status meant the board did not have to take public comment on its rule changes.

The regulation changes included adding wolf and moose population estimates that the board says justifies the aerial hunting program.

The board also added a list of aerial hunting alternatives that it deems unfeasible. They include destroying wolf habitat by burning or bulldozing, sterilization, relocation, stocking areas with more moose and feeding roadkill to wolves as another food source.

Fleagle said most of these alternatives were too expensive.

Jim Reeves, the lawyer representing Friends of Animals and seven Alaska plaintiffs, said the board meeting to pass emergency regulations was wrong.

"We have made it clear to Kevin Saxby's office that we do not regard it as an emergency when an agency needs to adopt regulations to fix a problem of its own making," he said.

The board needs to engage in the normal rule-making process, which requires public notice and comment, Reeves said.

It also needs to go back and get new information from the five areas to support the wolf control program, he said.

"It has to get contemporaneous information ... not just rely on information from two, three, five years ago and patch a couple of holes," he said. "What they did today is they said we will just look again at all this stale information from before and put some patches on it."

If the state decides to reinstate the wolf control program anyway, Reeves said one possibility is to ask the judge to examine the legality of the emergency regulations.



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