Pilots and gunners will be able to resume shooting wolves from the air as early as Friday, following an emergency decision Wednesday by the Board of Game.
The state shut down the controversial program last week after a state Superior Court judge ruled on Jan. 17 that the predator-kill program was invalid.
Twenty-four wolves have been killed under the program this year. To increase moose populations, the state plans to reduce wolves by as much as 80 percent in the five areas where aerial wolf hunts are allowed. That would be more than 500 additional wolves.
The board made some changes in the program to address legal questions raised by the judge. The changes, made in a statewide teleconference that excluded public comment, included reducing the size of two areas where aerial hunts are permitted and updating information.
Chairman Mike Fleagle said the two-year-old program needed to be quickly reinstated to prevent a major setback. Even a short delay would allow wolf numbers to quickly rise just as the two-year-old program is beginning to have some success.
The program would have to start over from scratch, Fleagle said.
Judge Sharon Gleason, in a lawsuit filed by Connecticut-based Friends of Animals and seven Alaska plaintiffs, ruled that the board had not followed its own regulations and covered too much land in two of the five areas, said Kevin Saxby, senior assistant attorney general for the department of law.
Gleason ruled in favor of the state on most issues, Saxby said, and as a result most of the changes were minor. The board provided additional information to show that it had tried to increase moose harvests through all other alternative means, including looser hunting and trapping restrictions on bears which also eat moose.
It also more clearly stated that rural residents, with rising fuel costs, few incentives for trapping, and limited cash income, couldn't afford to kill enough wolves to help moose rebound.
The changes and the emergency meeting drew immediate fire from attorneys representing groups opposed to the aerial wolf kills.
Jim Reeves, representing the plaintiffs, said the board had two years to address the concerns raised in the lawsuit, so it did not have sufficient justification for an emergency meeting that excluded public input.
The issues that needed to be updated, including mortality rates, game populations and subsistence needs were so complicated that the public's input was required, the letter said.
Reeves said if the lieutenant governor signs off on the emergency regulations, as expected, "the next question is to ask the court if these are valid, to ask the court to look at the board's actions today and decide if they acted legally today."
Valerie Brown, who represents the Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife, said the board's emergency action was illegal. In a letter to Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell, she said wolf gunning permits should not be issued until new regulations are adopted under the normal process.
During the meeting, Saxby said public comment would be taken when the regulations are revisited at the board's March 10-20 meeting in Fairbanks.