ANCHORAGE - A judge on Friday invalidated the aerial killing of wolves in several small areas of Alaska while issuing a ruling upholding the state predator control program.
Superior Court Judge William F. Morse issued a lengthy ruling that took a look at the state's wolf control program, now operating in five areas of Alaska. The program is being challenged by Friends of Animals, Defenders of Wildlife and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
The groups filed the lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Board of Game in 2006 in hopes of ending the aerial wolf control program.
Supporters say the program will help increase the moose and caribou that people in rural areas rely on for food. But critics contend that the game board does not have the science to justify killing hundreds of wolves under the guise of predator control.
"Alaskans have allowed their bureaucracy to be taken over by extremists - people who want to keep an air force to annihilate wolves and other natural predators," said Priscilla Feral, president of Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals. "The state's mean-spirited and deeply unpopular wolf-shooting forays must stop."
Under the program in its fifth year, more than 700 wolves have been killed.
Alaska is divided up into 26 game management units. The lawsuit challenged the program in areas where it is authorized.
"We challenged all of them," said Friends of Animals lawyer Michael Grisham.
Grisham said the judge found the program was valid in five areas, but failed to meet requirements in several others. Those areas are game units 16A across Cook Inlet from Anchorage and parts of game unit 20A near Fairbanks and an area of game unit 20 north of Fairbanks.
"Our argument was that none of those were supported by any real evidence," he said.
Ron Clarke, assistant director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said Morse's ruling is largely a victory for the program.
"It reaffirms the state's position on the vast majority of what the complaint was filed against. We thought we were doing it appropriately and for the most part we are," Clarke said.
The areas where the judge found it wanting were where the game board decided to extend it last year. Grisham said the board lumped together several new areas for predator control without making any new findings on the wolves, caribou and bears in those areas.
The judge found that the Alaska Board of Game didn't have enough information for the extension.
"The Board made the requisite findings for some, but not all of the units wherein predator programs were authorized...," the judge's ruling said.
The board can fix the problems in those areas if it wants to, Clarke said.
Board Game Chairman Cliff Judkins said the problems can be corrected through emergency regulation, something that will probably occur next week.
The board extended the program in certain areas to better cover where the wolves were, and in one case to protect the entire Forty Mile caribou herd near Tok.