Juneau - The on-again, off-again state aerial wolf-control program is off again, following the Jan. 13 ruling by an Anchorage Superior Court judge that the program is illegal.
"The [Board of Game] is bound by its regulations," Judge Sharon Gleason stated in the decision. "A review of the enabling regulations for aerial wolf control programs indicates that the Board failed to adequately address some or all of these regulatory requirements in each of the applicable GMU (game management units) in which it has authorized wolf control."
The state temporarily suspended the predator-control programs in response to the 32-page Superior Court summary judgment ruling in the 2003 case, but Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials are ready to start things up again, after making several changes to predator-control regulations governing the aerial hunts.
The Alaska Board of Game will hold an emergency meeting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to address concerns raised by the Superior Court. The Board will not be taking public testimony during the meeting, but it will be open to the public on a listen-only basis by teleconference at sites in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Glennallen and Tok.
Fish and Game officials admit its predator-control regulations for the five specified areas in Alaska are inconsistent.
"The judge also found that there were several areas that were geographically over-large," Department of Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell said. "In other words, the board had authorized an area that was this big; we're actually only doing wolf control in an area maybe a portion of it."
The ruling is good news for opponents of predator control. The Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Defenders of Wildlife say they are very happy about the decision.
"I think it means that the wolves of Alaska have a victory," said John Toppenberg, a wildlife photographer and member of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. "But more importantly, the moose and caribou of Alaska have a long-term victory regarding their health and well-being, (with) the wolves being necessary for their long-term health."
The victory celebration may be short-lived, if Campbell's prediction is right.
"The ruling is a minor setback," said Sarah Gilbertson, director of communications for Fish and Game. "The judge ruled in favor of the state on virtually all of the arguments made by the plaintiffs. The programs have been invalidated based upon the judge's finding that the Board of Game's regulations are 'internally inconsistent.' The state can make its regulations consistent."
Gov. Frank Murkowski said he expected the game board to work quickly to answer the judge's concerns.
"I stand firmly behind the state's predator control programs, which are based upon sound science," Murkowski said. "I look forward to prompt and appropriate action from the Board of Game."
"Both issues are of a regulatory nature and can be fixed," Gilbertson said. "Once corrected, we expect the hunts to resume."
"We'll have to wait and see what the Board of Game produces from their meeting," Toppenberg added. "But it is likely that if they resume the aerial hunting program, that the principals in the case will continue their action to halt any further needless slaying of animals."
Contact Darrell L. Breese at 352-2267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.