ANCHORAGE - A judge denied a request Wednesday to put an immediate stop to an Alaska program that allows wolves to be shot from the air.
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The request was made as part of a lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife, The Alaska Wildlife Alliance and the Alaska chapter of the Sierra Club to stop the program operating in five areas of the state.
"We are disappointed that Alaska's ill-advised aerial gunning program will continue before a complete examination of all the facts can take place," Karla Dutton, director of the Alaska office of Defenders of Wildlife, a national group with more than 800,000 members, said in a statement.
The program, which has been the target of lawsuits since it began in 2003, is intended to boost moose and caribou numbers where residents have complained that predators are killing too many, leaving them too few to hunt for food.
Under the program, now in its fourth year, 580 wolves have been killed. The goal is to reduce wolf populations in each of the specified areas by as much as 80 percent annually. The program runs through April 30 with the best conditions for tracking wolves in February and March.
Superior Court Judge William Morse prefaced his ruling by explaining his job was not to give his opinion about the wolf control program. His role was to decide if there was cause to immediately stop the program.
"I am not here to rule on the wisdom of aerial wolf killing," he said. "I have a limited role."
Morse found that stopping the program now would cause little harm to the groups that filed the lawsuit. The real harm is to the individual wolves that will be killed, he said. While that may hurt wolf packs, they can regenerate, he said.
"With time, the packs - gain strength," Morse said.
But if Morse granted the preliminary injunction, the program would be set back, he said.
The judge also found that the way in which the wolf control regulations were adopted did not violate state procedure laws. Problems with the regulations were fixed as a result of previous court proceedings, he said.
Morse found that the state had devised the program as part of a game management plan that contained sufficient findings and criteria.
"You may disagree with them, but it is a thought-out program and there is an overriding management plan spelled out there," the judge said.
Morse predicted the fight over wolves would eventually end up in the Alaska Supreme Court.
"I think this is a difficult issue in a very contentious area," he said. "I realize this issue is not going away."
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