Anchorage, Alaska - Yesterday's ruling by an Anchorage judge that grounded aerial wolf control is getting different reviews. It's a ruling that has animal rights advocates howling with delight. But state Department of Fish and Game officials say the dogfight isn't over yet.
Both Priscilla Feral, the president of the Connecticut-based group Friends of Animals, and Department of Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell have been on the front lines of wolf control since at least the early 1990s. Today they remain at odds, both in principle and in their interpretation of yesterday's court ruling, which grounded hunter pilot teams across the state.
Feral has declared victory in her fight to end Alaska's aerial wolf control program. But Campbell says yesterday's ruling by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason is just a minor setback. But strangely enough, both believe that Gleason's ruling vindicates their position on aerial wolf control.
"Judge Gleason, we thought, did a very carefully reasoned, well researched decision," said Campbell.
"The judge wrote a very detailed, carefully reasoned, brilliant opinion, and that's more than encouraging," said Feral.
The judge suspended the state's aerial wolf control program, which since 2003 has seen more than 400 wolves shot from airplanes, or spotted from the air and then shot from the ground. It's a practice that groups like Friends of Animals say is inhumane and illegal.
"Fish and Game has always been on the wrong side of the issue. The point is the wolves won," said Feral .
Gleason's ruling found inconsistencies in the justification used by Fish and Game to rationalize aerial wolf control.
"Not the statute, and that's what's important, not the statute, the statute the judge upheld," said Campbell (left).
Campbell says the state Board of Game will meet next week to fix two holes the judge found in the state's program. The first is that some areas of the state's control program are too broad.
"There might be this much area that's allowed under the regulation, the work and the science and the controls have actually been done in a smaller area and that's where we're doing our efforts," said Campbell.
The judge also agreed with plaintiffs that the state did not have enough scientific evidence to show that other methods of increasing moose and caribou numbers were either tried first or wouldn't work.
"When you throw that balance completely out of whack by killing 85 percent of the wolves every year for five years running, you have disrupted the balance of nature. And from my experience, the more you screw with nature, the more you screw it up," said John Toppenberg, the executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
Campbell says the ruling will only require a few changes by the Board of Game. Feral says it should permanently stop aerial killing of wolves in Alaska. Either way, both agree the debate is unlikely to end with the judge's ruling.
If the Board of Game makes the needed changes to the state regulations, Campbell says pilots and shooters could be in the air as early as the end of next week. Last month the state issued 100 permits to take wolves from the air. Those permits are now on hold, pending changes by the Board of Game.
Commissioner Campbell says the board will not take public testimony at next week's emergency meeting. Such meetings, he says rarely include it. But he did say that there will be plenty of opportunities for people to give the state their take on the program, as state biologists and the board of game will be reviewing the effectiveness of aerial wolf control efforts later this year.