A little more than a week after being grounded by an Anchorage judge's court decision, the state's aerial wolf control program is ready for takeoff again.
New regulations written by the Alaska Board of Game in an emergency meeting Wednesday were filed with the lieutenant governor's office Thursday, clearing the way for aerial gunners to once again take aim at wolves in five areas where moose and caribou numbers are declining, according to state game officials.
But it will still be a few days before gunners and their pilots can take to the air, assuming they don't mind flying at 40 degrees below zero.
New permits will have to be issued to those pilots and gunners who already received permits because the regulations are new, said Matt Robus, director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation.
"It's not just a matter of calling everybody up and saying go ahead and start again, it's a re-issuing process," said Robus by phone from Anchorage where the Game Board is set to begin a four-day meeting today to deal with other topics not related to predator control.
"That won't take long. We'll get new signatures on these new permits and we'll be back in operation."
Almost 450 wolves have been killed by aerial gunners in the past three winters as part of the state's effort to boost moose and caribou populations in areas where they are declining.
This winter, the state has issued 157 permits to pilot-gunner teams to kill upwards of 500 wolves in five different areas around the state. Only 24 wolves had been killed when the state suspended the program on Jan. 17 following a 32-page ruling issued by Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason in response to a suit filed by Friends of Animals, the Connecticut-based animal-rights group that has led the attack on the state's predator control programs.
While siding with the state on most of the claims in the lawsuit, Gleason ruled the Game Board did not provide the required justification for an aerial-killing program and did not explain why alternative methods of reducing wolves, such as trapping, hunting, sterilization, relocating and supplemental feeding, would not work before approving aerial control. The judge also noted discrepancies in the percentages of wolves slated to be removed from each area.
In response, the Game Board met Wednesday by teleconference to adopt new plans that would address those issues.
"The board essentially adopted the same five programs without the deficiencies the judge had criticized," Robus said.
The fact that the Game Board declared the situation an emergency and circumvented Gleason's ruling by holding a teleconference with no public input was appalling to Friends of Animals executive director Priscilla Feral.
"It's not an emergency because the court told them no," she said from Connecticut. "The state can't gerrymander to justify wolf control."
Feral said the animal-rights group will again appeal to the court to get the program stopped, though she wasn't sure when a suit would be filed or on what grounds.
"We are moving as quickly as we can," she said. "We're going to court."
Staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or firstname.lastname@example.org .