A judge has struck down Alaska's aerial wolf control program, saying the Alaska Board of Game did not follow the required laws when they authorized it.
The ruling came down today by Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason. What this means is that the aerial wolf hunting program--which was established here in Alaska in November 2003-- is now illegal. Keep in mind, this is a program Governor Murkowski had re-instated--despite significant opposition across the state.
Judge Gleason's 30-page ruling sites the state's failure to follow specific rules with respect to aerial wolf hunting. There was also speculation that there's been inadequate data with respect to wolf and caribou numbers to support the program. We can tell you that as of December 8th of this year, six wolves were killed in the Tok region of Alaska.
Since the program's inception, hundreds of wolves have been killed. Before this ruling came down, aerial wolf hunting was taking place in five areas here in Alaska. This is an issue that's garnered national attention, in both the political and environmental realm. Opponents of the program have argued for years that this lethal wolf control program severely disrupts the balance of nature in the state and that it compromises the long-range well-being of all animals.
John Toppenberg, who opposes the program, believes today's decision was fair.
"It's certainly a contentious issue. But in this particular case I believe this ruling by Judge Gleason was based strictly on law. It's not on emotions or issues, it's just on the letter of the law," said Toppenberg.
Governor Murkowski---who re-instated this controversial program three years ago---- released a statement on the ruling around 4:30 this afternoon, calling it a minor setback.
The governor went on to say:
"I stand firmly behind the state's predator control programs, which are based upon sound science."
That statement, of course, undermining the judge's ruling that there is insignificant data to support aerial wolf hunting. Clearly, this is not the end of this debate. An appeal will most likely be the next step. Commissioner Campbell is going as far as to say that this is simply an interruption in the process.
The Board of Game is expected to meet early next week to devise plan B'. CBS 11 News will keep you posted.
To contact Raegan, call 907-273-3109