Judge backs wolf control program

Court rejects animal rights' group request to stop aerial killing

Posted: Wednesday, February 01, 2006

ANCHORAGE - A judge on Tuesday denied a request by an animal rights group to immediately halt the state's aerial wolf-killing program.

Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason said the state Board of Game acted properly in adopting emergency regulations last week that make the population control program conform to state law.

Gleason ruled Jan. 17 that the board violated its own standards for expanding the program, in part because it did not provide justification for it or explain why alternatives such as sterilization or habitat destruction would not work.

The program to boost moose or caribou populations in five areas of the state got its start in 2003 in an area of Alaska's Interior where residents had long complained predators were killing too many moose, leaving too few for food.

The Darien, Conn.-based animals rights group Friends of Animals asked for a temporary restraining order blocking wolf control, saying the board should have used standard procedures - including taking public testimony - in adopting new wolf-killing regulations. That process would have taken at least 75 days and likely 90 or more, said assistant attorney general Kevin Saxby.

Instead, the board rewrote the rules during an emergency meeting Jan. 25 that excluded public testimony.

Gleason ruled Tuesday that the new regulations do not expand the program and that there has been a long record of public testimony on the program.

She also said the state made a compelling argument that its multiyear program to reduce predators in affected game units would be harmed by going through the normal adoption of regulations.

That likely would have kept airborne shooting teams out of the skies at least through April, months considered the prime time for finding and killing wolves.

Attorney Jim Reeves, representing Friends of Animals and seven Alaska plaintiffs, argued unsuccessfully that the state had not demonstrated the emergency that would allow fast-track regulations. State law presumes emergencies can be declared only rarely, he said.

The state made no reference, for example, whether a reduction in wolves could be accomplished by hunting and trapping alone, Reeves said. Likewise, the state did not show how gains would be lost in areas where wolves had been killed, Reeves said.

"The agency needs to tell the public concretely why can't we do this the normal way," he said.

Neither inaction by an agency nor its desire to continue a program constitutes an emergency, Reeves said.

Saxby said the board clearly noted moose populations are in trouble and set goals using the best available science to achieve them.

"In an emergency, the public doesn't expect the government to get bogged down in minutia," he said.

Halting wolf kills during the prime months to do it would set predator control back years, he said, harming people whose culture depends on hunting moose.



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